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Carers need emotional support as well as practical help says study

Seeing the funny side of things and realising that other people are worse off than them are the two top coping strategies used by people caring for someone over 75, according to research in November issue of Journal of Clinical Nursing.

Nurse researcher Alison Jarvis from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, explored the caring experiences of 172 carers. She discovered that dealing with the emotional consequences and family tensions created by caring can prove a much greater problem than the tasks that carers perform for the people they look after.

Yet most health and social care professionals focus purely on practical issues, when they should be dealing with carers in a more holistic way and taking account of their emotional needs.

“Our study shows that carers get satisfaction from the quality of care they provide and use humour and practical solutions to resolve problems” says Ms Jarvis. “But many feel angry about their situation and find it hard to cope with the actual and potential family tensions created by their caring role.”

79 per cent found humour helpful and 74 per cent felt they were better off than others. Three-quarters of carers also found it helpful to keep some free time for themselves, maintain interests outside caring and keep the person they cared for as active as possible.

Two-thirds (67 per cent) said that they tried to get as much help as they could from professionals and service providers, but only two per cent advocated attending a self-help group.

16 per cent found relaxation and meditation techniques helpful.

Questionnaires were sent to carers identified as part of a larger survey carried out in a Scottish practice – which comprises five family doctors and 5,000 registered adults aged 16 or over.

69 per cent of patients took part in the initial screening survey and 70 per cent of patients who said they cared for someone aged 75 or over took part in the latest study.

Key findings include:

• About a third of respondents said that caring put a strain on family relationships (34 per cent), that the person they cared for could be difficult (33 per cent) and that caring restricted their social life (32 per cent).

• More than one in five (22 per cent) felt angry about their situation and 30 per cent said that their emotional well-being had suffered as a result of caring.

• However eight out of ten people did get satisfaction from seeing the person they cared for happy or from doing something that gave their loved one pleasure. They also felt that it was important to maintain the dignity of the person they cared for and felt it was one way of expressing their love for them.

• Just under a third (32 per cent) said caring had helped them to grow as a person, 13 per cent said it gave their life purpose and 16 per cent said it had given them the chance to widen their interests and contacts.

“This study shows that it is the invisible consequences of care giving, such as family tensions and lack of time, that seem to be most stressful, even at an early stage” says Ms Jarvis. “These chronic stress factors may accumulate and the last stressor, which may appear to be relatively minor, could trigger a crisis.

“Professionals have a tendency to see solutions to problems in purely practical terms and avoid complex or painful emotional issues, despite talking about “needs led” rather than “service led” assessments.

“They need to develop a better understanding of the often invisible difficulties that carers face and how they really feel about their role. This will help them to understand why some people appear to manage the stresses of caring while others struggle with less demanding loads.”

Annette Whibley | alfa
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