Caregivers' Perspectives on the Use of Long-Term Oxygen Therapy for the Treatment of Refractory Breathlessness: A Qualitative Study

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 2017, 53 (1), pp. 33 - 39
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© 2016 American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Context Despite limited clinical evidence, long-term oxygen therapy (LTOT) is used for the management of refractory breathlessness in people with life-limiting illnesses who are not necessarily hypoxemic. Objectives The aim of this study was to understand caregiver factors associated with caring for someone with LTOT from the perspectives and experiences of caregivers themselves. Methods The qualitative study used semistructured interviews. The study was conducted in two states in Australia. Participants (n = 20) were self-nominated caregivers of people receiving LTOT for refractory breathlessness in the palliative setting. Results Data analyses established one overarching theme titled: “Oxygen giveth (something to help caregivers relieve breathlessness) and oxygen taketh away (from patients who lose some autonomy).” The theme captured caregivers' feelings of extreme distress in response to witnessing refractory breathlessness, and oxygen fulfilling several critical and beneficial roles in this context. In parallel, caregivers also explicitly and implicitly articulated several downsides to the use of LTOT. Conclusion Caregivers find caring for someone with refractory breathlessness extremely distressing. The benefits of LTOT are often overestimated, whereas its potential harms are underestimated. As significant stakeholders of people receiving LTOT, caregivers should be provided with opportunities to collaborate with clinicians in evidence-based decision making, efforts should be made to provide them with information and education about the most effective pharmacological and nonpharmacological strategies to manage refractory breathlessness in a palliative care setting including the appropriate use of LTOT to enable them to do so.
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