A cluster randomised controlled trial and economic evaluation of a structured training programme for caregivers of inpatients after stroke: the TRACS trial

A Forster, J Dickerson, J Young, A Patel, L Kalra, J Nixon, D Smithard, M Knapp, I Holloway, S Anwar, A Farrin
Health Technology Assessment: HTA 2013, 17 (46): 1-216

BACKGROUND: The majority of stroke patients are discharged home dependent on informal caregivers, usually family members, to provide assistance with activities of daily living (ADL), including bathing, dressing and toileting. Many caregivers feel unprepared for this role and this may have a detrimental effect on both the patient and caregiver.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate whether or not a structured, competency-based training programme for caregivers [the London Stroke Carer Training Course (LSCTC)] improved physical and psychological outcomes for patients and their caregivers after disabling stroke, and to determine if such a training programme is cost-effective.

DESIGN: A pragmatic, multicentre, cluster randomised controlled trial.

SETTING: Stratified randomisation of 36 stroke rehabilitation units (SRUs) to the intervention or control group by geographical region and quality of care.

PARTICIPANTS: A total of 930 stroke patient and caregiver dyads were recruited. Patients were eligible if they had a confirmed diagnosis of stroke, were medically stable, were likely to return home with residual disability at the time of discharge and had a caregiver available, willing and able to provide support after discharge. The caregiver was defined as the main person--other than health, social or voluntary care provider--helping with ADL and/or advocating on behalf of the patient.

INTERVENTION: The intervention (the LSCTC) comprised a number of caregiver training sessions and competency assessment delivered by SRU staff while the patient was in the SRU and one recommended follow-up session after discharge. The control group continued to provide usual care according to national guidelines. Recruitment was completed by independent researchers and participants were unaware of the SRUs' allocation.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcomes were self-reported extended ADL for the patient and caregiver burden measured at 6 months after recruitment. Secondary outcomes included quality of life, mood and cost-effectiveness, with final follow-up at 12 months.

RESULTS: No differences in primary outcomes were found between the groups at 6 months. Adjusted mean differences were -0.2 points [95% confidence interval (CI) -3.0 to 2.5 points; p = 0.866; intracluster correlation coefficient (ICC) = 0.027] for the patient Nottingham Extended Activities of Daily Living score and 0.5 points (95% CI -1.7 to 2.7 points; p = 0.660; ICC = 0.013) for the Caregiver Burden Scale. Furthermore, no differences were detected in any of the secondary outcomes. Intervention compliance varied across the units. Half of the participating centres had a compliance rating of > 60%. Analysis showed no evidence of higher levels of patient independence or lower levels of caregiver burden in the SRUs with better levels of intervention compliance. The economic evaluation suggests that from a patient and caregiver perspective, health and social care costs, societal costs and outcomes are similar for the intervention and control groups at 6 months, 12 months and over 1 year.

CONCLUSIONS: We have conducted a robust multicentre, cluster randomised trial, demonstrating for the first time that this methodology is feasible in stroke rehabilitation research. There was no difference between the LSCTC and usual care with respect to improving stroke patients' recovery, reducing caregivers' burden, or improving other physical and psychological outcomes, nor was it cost-effective compared with usual care. Compliance with the intervention varied, but analysis indicated that a dose effect was unlikely. It is possible that the immediate post-stroke period may not be the ideal time for the delivery of structured training. The intervention approach might be more relevant if delivered after discharge by community-based teams.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN49208824.

FUNDING: This project was funded by the MRC and is managed by the NIHR (project number 09/800/10) on behalf of the MRC-NIHR partnership, and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 17, No. 46. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.

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