Latest Australian Research

The following lists palliative care research primarily conducted by Australian research groups. The list is based on application of the CareSearch search filter for palliative care to identify articles held within the PubMed database and corresponding to the strongest evidence. Articles have been selected based on relevance and new articles are added on a weekly basis.

Whilst not an exhaustive list, the aim is to keep the community informed by providing a snapshot of recent research findings and planned studies in the Australian setting.


6 February 2020

Using elastic nets to estimate frailty burden from routinely collected national aged care data.

Moldovan M, Khadka J, Visvanathan R, Wesselingh S, Inacio MC.

To (1) use an elastic net (EN) algorithm to derive a frailty measure from a national aged care eligibility assessment program; (2) compare the ability of EN-based and a traditional cumulative deficit (CD) based frailty measures to predict mortality and entry into permanent residential care; (3) assess if the predictive ability can be improved by using weighted frailty measures.

A Cox proportional hazard model based EN algorithm was applied to the 2003-2013 cohort of 903 996 participants for selecting items to enter an EN based frailty measure. The out-of-sample predictive accuracy was measured by the area under the curve (AUC) from Cox models fitted to 80% training and validated on 20% testing samples.

The EN approach resulted in a 178-item frailty measure including items excluded from the 44-item CD-based measure. The EN based measure was not statistically significantly different from the CD-based approach in terms of predicting mortality (AUC 0.641, 95% CI: 0.637-0.644 vs AUC 0.637, 95% CI: 0.634-0.641) and permanent care entry (AUC 0.626, 95% CI: 0.624-0.629 vs AUC 0.627, 95% CI: 0.625-0.63). However, the weighted EN based measure statistically outperforms the weighted CD measure for predicting mortality (AUC 0.774, 95% CI: 0.771-0.777 vs AUC 0.757, 95% CI: 0.754-0.760) and permanent care entry (AUC 0.676, 95% CI: 0.673-0.678 vs AUC 0.671, 95% CI: 0.668-0.674).

The weighted EN and CD-based measures demonstrated similar prediction performance. The CD-based measure items are relevant to frailty measurement and easier to interpret. We recommend using the weighted and unweighted CD-based frailty measures.

6 February 2020

Factors associated with accessing aged care services in Australia after approval for services: Findings from the historical cohort of the Registry of Senior Australians.

Inacio MC, Amare AT, Whitehead C, Bray SCE, Corlis M, Visvanathan R, Wesselingh S.

To evaluate access to approved aged care services and factors associated with accessing these services.

A retrospective cohort study was conducted (1/7/2003-30/6/2013). The incidence of accessing permanent residential, home and respite care services within one year, or transition care within 28 days of approval, was evaluated. The association of participants' socio-demographic characteristics, limitations, health conditions and assessment characteristics with service use was evaluated.

In 799 750 older Australians, the incidence of accessing approved permanent residential care within one year was 70.9% (95% confidence interval [CI] 70.8%-71.0%), home care 49.5% (95% CI 49.3%-49.7%) and respite care 41.8% (95% CI 41.7%-41.9%). The incidence of accessing transition care within 28 days was 78.5% (95% CI 78.2%-78.7%). Aged care seekers', assessments' and assessors' characteristics are associated with service access.

Monitoring the use of aged care service approvals to identify service access barriers can support ongoing evidence-based policy changes.

3 February 2020

A pilot randomised controlled trial of metacognitive therapy for prolonged grief.

Wenn JA, O'Connor M, Kane RT, Rees CS, Breen LJ.

Prolonged grief disorder is associated with significant distress and impairment and thus efforts to improve treatments are essential. The present pilot study tested the efficacy and feasibility of group Metacognitive Grief Therapy (MCGT) designed specifically for prolonged grief symptomatology to reduce the psychological distress and impaired function resulting from bereavement.

Twenty-two bereaved adult participants with prolonged grief symptomatology were randomised to a wait-list control (n=10) or an intervention condition (n=12) with a 3-month and 6-month follow-up. The wait-list control group was offered treatment after the post-test assessment.

Participants attended six group MCGT sessions that ran for 2 hours per week.

A primary outcome measure of prolonged grief symptomatology and secondary outcome measures of depression, anxiety, rumination, metacognitive beliefs and quality of life were taken pretreatment and post-treatment for both groups and at the 3-month and 6-month follow-up for the intervention group. A Generalised Linear Mixed Model was used to assess treatment efficacy.

Post-treatment intent-to-treat analyses showed MCGT reduced prolonged grief symptomatology (Cohen's d=1.7), depression (d=1.3), anxiety (d=0.8), stress (d=1.0), rumination (d=0.9) and increased quality of life (d=0.6), and these effects were maintained at the 3-month and 6-month follow-ups. No prepost between-group differences were found in metacognitive beliefs. However, a large significant effect was identified at the 3-month and 6-month follow-ups (d=1.0).

The results show promise for the utility of group MCGT for reducing psychological distress and promoting quality of life. Additionally, the results underscore the need for a full randomised controlled trial of group MCGT, which may be an important addition to the treatment armamentarium available to support people with prolonged grief.

13 January 2020

The effect of metoprolol and aspirin on cardiovascular risk in bereavement: A randomized controlled trial.

Tofler GH, Morel-Kopp MC, Spinaze M, Dent J, Ward C, McKinley S, Mihailidou AS, Havyatt J, Whitfield V, Bartrop R, Fethney J, Prigerson HG, Buckley T.

Bereavement is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease; however, no reports exist of interventions to reduce risk. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 85 recently bereaved participants, we determined whether β-blocker (metoprolol 25 mg) and aspirin (100 mg) reduce cardiovascular risk markers and anxiety, without adversely affecting bereavement intensity.

Participants were spouses (n = 73) or parents (n = 12) of deceased from 5 hospitals in Sydney, Australia, 55 females, 30 males, aged 66.1 ± 9.4 years. After assessment within 2 weeks of bereavement, subjects were randomized to 6 weeks of daily treatment or placebo, and the effect evaluated using ANCOVA, adjusted for baseline values (primary analysis).

Participants on metoprolol and aspirin had lower levels of home systolic pressure (P = .03), 24-hour average heart rate (P < .001) and anxiety (P = .01) platelet response to arachidonic acid (P < .001) and depression symptoms (P = .046) than placebo with no difference in standard deviation of NN intervals index (SDNNi), von Willebrand Factor antigen, platelet-granulocyte aggregates or bereavement intensity. No significant adverse safety impact was observed.

In early bereavement, low dose metoprolol and aspirin for 6 weeks reduces physiological and psychological surrogate measures of cardiovascular risk. Although further research is needed, results suggest a potential preventive benefit of this approach during heightened cardiovascular risk associated with early bereavement.

6 January 2020

Reducing time in acute hospitals: A stepped-wedge randomised control trial of a specialist palliative care intervention in residential care homes.

Forbat L, Liu WM, Koerner J, Lam L, Samara J, Chapman M, Johnston N.

Care home residents are frequently transferred to hospital, rather than provided with appropriate and timely specialist care in the care home.

To determine whether a model of care providing specialist palliative care in care homes, called Specialist Palliative Care Needs Rounds, could reduce length of stay in hospital.

Stepped-wedge randomised control trial. The primary outcome was length of stay in acute care (over 24-h duration), with secondary outcomes being the number and cost of hospitalisations. Care homes were randomly assigned to cross over from control to intervention using a random number generator; masking was not possible due to the nature of the intervention. Analyses were by intention to treat. The trial was registered with ANZCTR: ACTRN12617000080325. Data were collected between 1 February 2017 and 30 June 2018.

1700 residents in 12 Australian care homes for older people.

Specialist Palliative Care Needs Rounds led to reduced length of stay in hospital (unadjusted difference: 0.5 days; adjusted difference: 0.22 days with 95% confidence interval: -0.44, -0.01 and p = 0.038). The intervention also provided a clinically significant reduction in the number of hospitalisations by 23%, from 5.6 to 4.3 per facility-month. A conservative estimate of annual net cost-saving from reduced admissions was A$1,759,011 (US$1.3 m; UK£0.98 m).

The model of care significantly reduces hospitalisations through provision of outreach by specialist palliative care clinicians. The data offer substantial evidence for Specialist Palliative Care Needs Rounds to reduce hospitalisations in older people approaching end of life, living in care homes.

6 January 2020

A pilot study of a new bereavement program for children: Lionheart Camp for Kids.

Griffiths N, Mazzucchelli TG, Skinner S, Kane RT, Breen LJ.

We assessed the acceptability and effectiveness of a new childhood bereavement service known as Lionheart Camp for Kids. Using a pre-post-follow-up design, data pertaining to 12 bereaved children (aged 5-12 years) and their primary caregivers were obtained. Results showed that caregivers reported decreases in children's peer relationship problems, improvements in parental consistency, and reductions in coercive parenting, and there was a trend toward lower self-reported grief by the children. Caregivers were highly satisfied with the program. There is a need for a wait-list or randomized controlled trial over a longer time period to determine the full benefits of the camp.

6 January 2020

Why is optimisation of antimicrobial use difficult at the end of life?

Broom J, Broom A, Good P, Lwin Z.

The antibiotic optimisation imperative is now ubiquitous, with national policy frameworks in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries incorporating the requirement for antimicrobial stewardship within healthcare services. Yet in practice, the optimisation agenda often raises complex ethical- and practice-based dilemmas. Antibiotic use at the end of life is multidimensional. It includes balancing complex issues, such as accuracy of prognostic estimates, benevolence to the individual versus the broader public health, personalised value judgement of time and quality of life and the right to treatment versus the right to die. It also occurs in an emotional context where the clinician and patient (and their family) collectively confront mortality. This provides a scenario where amplification of the already strong social and behavioural forces that drive overuse of antibiotics in many other clinical settings may occur. It therefore offers an important case for illustrating how antibiotic optimisation may be limited by social, value-based and ethical dilemmas.

16 December 2019

The role of comorbidity assessment in guiding treatment decision-making for women with early breast cancer: a systematic literature review.

Webster S, Lawn S, Chan R, Koczwara B.

Comorbidity in breast cancer patients impacts treatment choice, toxicity, and outcomes. While comorbidity measurement tools are frequently used by researchers, little is known about their use in clinical practice. The aim of this review was to examine the use of comorbidity measurement tools in clinical practice and their role in treatment decision-making in breast cancer.

Six electronic databases were searched from inception to 21 March 2019. Quantitative or mixed methods studies addressing primary treatment of breast cancer and identifying a comorbidity measurement tool used in clinical practice treatment decision-making were included. Data was extracted on tool utilized, impact on treatment decisions or outcomes, pattern of use, and psychometric properties.

A systematic search of literature yielded 752 studies. Of the four studies that met inclusion criteria, each utilized a comprehensive geriatric assessment tool, though only in a subset of patients. No studies found direct comorbidity measurement tools utilized independently of geriatric assessment. Assessment results had variable impact on treatment decisions. Impacts on patient mortality and treatment toxicity, cost-effectiveness, and psychometric characteristics of the tools were not identified.

There is little evidence on use of specific comorbidity tools in clinical decision-making in breast cancer outside of comorbidity assessment as part of geriatric assessment tools. There was limited impact on decision-making or patient outcomes when these were utilized. Further research is needed to identify barriers to comorbidity assessment in clinical practice and identify comorbidity tools that have the potential to improve patient outcomes.

9 December 2019

Oral medicinal cannabinoids to relieve symptom burden in the palliative care of patients with advanced cancer:

a double-blind, placebo controlled, randomised clinical trial of efficacy and safety of cannabidiol (CBD).

Good P, Haywood A, Gogna G, Martin J, Yates P, Greer R, Hardy J.

Despite improvements in medical care, patients with advanced cancer still experience substantial symptom distress. There is increasing interest in the use of medicinal cannabinoids, but there is little high quality evidence to guide clinicians. This study aims to define the role of cannabidiol (CBD) in the management of symptom burden in patients with advanced cancer undergoing standard palliative care.

This study is a multicentre, randomised, placebo controlled, two arm, parallel trial of escalating doses of oral CBD. It will compare efficacy and safety outcomes of a titrated dose of CBD (100 mg/mL formulation, dose range 50 mg to 600 mg per day) against placebo. There is a 2-week patient determined titration phase, using escalating doses of CBD or placebo to reach a dose that achieves symptom relief with tolerable side effects. This is then followed by a further 2-week assessment period on the stable dose determined in collaboration with clinicians.

A major strength of this study is that it will target symptom burden as a whole, rather than just individual symptoms, in an attempt to describe the general improvement in wellbeing previously reported by some patients in open label, non controlled trials of medicinal cannabis. Randomisation with placebo is essential because of the well-documented over reporting of benefit in uncontrolled trials and high placebo response rates in cancer pain trials. This will be the first placebo controlled clinical trial to evaluate rigorously the efficacy, safety and acceptability of CBD for symptom relief in advanced cancer patients. This study will provide the medical community with evidence to present to patients wishing to access medicinal cannabis for their cancer related symptoms.

9 December 2019

An Open-Label Pilot Study Testing the Feasibility of Assessing Total Symptom Burden in Trials of Cannabinoid Medications in Palliative Care.

Good PD, Greer RM, Huggett GE, Hardy JR.

There is considerable interest in the use of cannabinoids for symptom control in palliative care, but there is little high-quality evidence to guide clinical practice.

Assess the feasibility of using global symptom burden measures to assess response to medicinal cannabis, to determine median tolerated doses of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and to document adverse events (AEs).

Prospective two-arm open-label pilot trial of escalating doses of CBD and THC oil.

Participants had advanced cancer and cancer-related symptoms in a palliative and supportive care service in an Australian cancer center.

The main outcome measures were the number of participants screened and randomized over the time frame, the number of participants completing days 14 and 28 and providing total symptom distress scores (TSDSs) (measured using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale), and the change from baseline of the TSDS at day 14.

Of the 21 participants enrolled (CBD, n = 16; THC, n = 5), 18 (86%) completed the primary outcome measure at day 14 and 8 completed at day 28. The median maximum tolerated doses were CBD, 300 mg/day (range 100-600 mg); THC, 10 mg/day (range 5-30 mg). Nine of 21 patients (43%) met the definition of response (≥6 point reduction in TSDS). Drowsiness was the most common AE.

Trials of medicinal cannabis in advanced cancer patients undergoing palliative care are feasible. The doses of THC and CBD used in this study were generally well tolerated and the outcome measure of total symptom distress is promising as a measure of overall symptom benefit.