Monday, March 19, 2012

Student researches the effects of stress on informal caregivers

Monday, March 26, is the Fourth Annual Student Research Day, an opportunity for Douglas College students to share their research projects with their peers and the larger community. Doug caught up with a few of the participants to learn more about their projects. 

I am 
Chera Arthur, a Therapeutic Recreation student

My project 
It’s about informal caregivers’ stress and its impact on their social, physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual well-being. The question that guided my research is, “How does informal caregiver stress affect each domain of wellness?” I attempted to answer this question by examining the experiences of six women who were currently caring for their ill or disabled parent.

What I learned 
Informal care giving is stressful, and it can create imbalance in all five domains of wellness. The rate at which these informal caregivers were affected in each domain varied significantly, but the emotional and physical domains seemed to take the biggest hit. Stress-related themes - such as frustration, exhaustion, lack of motivation, guilt and anger - emerged in the participants’ responses.

I was particularly interested in uncovering a potential relationship between spirituality and stress management. The women suggested there was a connection; in fact, two of the women who reported connecting spiritually also reported being the least stressed, compared to the rest of the group. But when considering perceived balance and quality of life across all domains, the participants who reported that they were most connected spiritually did not necessarily feel balanced in other domains.

My research is important
Informal care giving is a fact of life for many of us as our parents or grandparents age and need our help. Furthermore, the number of full-time informal caregivers is sure to rise along with our rapidly aging population. This will happen for a couple of reasons. One, there are currently not enough supports in place to address the needs of our aging population, and two, many seniors and their families want to help maintain their loved ones’ independence for as long as possible.

The process of moving a loved one into an extended care home can be extremely difficult for all involved. However, being the primary caregiver for a loved one can be very stressful. It is important that the needs of informal caregivers are recognized and interventions are put in place; otherwise they too will end up in the health care system.

The next step 
My hope for this project is that it will add to the existing body of research while raising awareness about this important issue. The aim of my study is to identify domains of wellness that have been more affected by stress than others, and to pinpoint protective factors that help participants cope with stress. Gaining a holistic picture of the informal caregiver’s experience allows health and wellness practitioners - as well as the caregivers themselves - to increase their knowledge, which will, I hope, prompt interventions aimed at addressing imbalances caused by stress.

The biggest takeaways 
I was very touched by the emotional struggles expressed by some of the study participants. I was also upset to learn about the lack of outside supports for informal caregivers. I constantly questioned myself how I might work with this population to help reduce stress, and how I could best advocate for this group.

Look for more interviews with student researchers this week on doug.