Caring for Older Adults: The Benefits of Informal Family Caregiving

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Recent literature emphasizes the burdens of caregiving, but there has been limited focus on benefits accrued by family members who care for older adults. This article describes phase three of a research study of employed caregivers in the workplace. Phase three of the study was a caregiver support group. Data from the support group meetings were content analyzed and interpreted using a lifespan perspective. Four themes relevant to caregiver benefits emerged: celebrating the small things, resolving past hurts and conflicts, developing personal strength and aging readiness, and experiencing the older persons full life. The shift from perceived burden to perceived benefit occurred gradually among support group members. Routine and intentional assessment of caregiving benefits or rewards within a supportive milieu may mitigate burden among people who care for older family members.

Key Words: Developmental task, Family caregiver, Lifespan perspective, Naturalistic inquiry, Workplace support

There has been greater emphasis on informal family caregiving in recent years as medical technology has continued to extend life expectancy. Because chronic health problems increase with advancing age, many older family members need assistance from spouses, siblings, adult children, or grandchildren. Most of the family caregiving literature has Focused on burdens, problems, and Stressors experienced by caregivers (Hunt, 2003; Pot, Deeg, & van Dyck, 2000; Robinson, 1989; Zarit, Rever, Bach-Peterson, 1980). These burdens include guilt about not doing enough, stress-related health problems such as hypertension and depression, work and employment problems, financial issues, and conflict among siblings about the best solutions to caregiving dilemmas. The burdens of caregiving occur so frequently that Gilliland and Bush defined family caregivers as "hidden patients" (Gilliland & Bush, 2001, p. 61).

PURPOSE

Although caregiving is most commonly depicted as a form of chronic stress, it can have positive outcomes or beneficial effects for caregivers. Focused attention on benefits and rewards of caregiving may provide valuable information to family caregivers as they manage their caregiving responsibilities. The purpose of this article is to report the benefits experienced by informal family caregivers of older adults. Using naturalistic inquiry methods, qualitative data provided by participants in a workplace support group were content analyzed and interpreted. Real life experiences revealed by support group participants in this study may help other family caregivers of older adults to recognize benefits of their own caregiving efforts.

BACKGROUND & SIGNIFICANCE

Caregiving for an older family member can be a satisfying and rewarding experience despite the possible stress of managin one's whole life (Kramer, 1997). Before examining documented benefits of caregiving, some important caregiver statistics will be considered.

Important Statistics about Caregiving

The National Family Caregiver Support Program, which was passed by Congress in 2000, helps to provide various kinds of assistance such as direct services and support to family caregivers. Although approximately 50% of family caregivers reported receiving no assistance in the late 1990s (MetLife, 1997), the 2004 program budget of $159 million was allocated to states for dispersal (Kornblum, 2004). About 25% of the U.S. population provides unpaid care for an older family member (Kornblum, 2004). Although one-fourth of the nation's workforce admits to providing eldercare, it is not a common workplace issue like childcare...yet (National Alliance for Caregiving [NAC] & AARP, 2004).

Documented Benefits of Caregiving

Although benefits of caregiving are a neglected area of caregiver assessment (Feinberg, 2004), they have been documented in the literature (Berg-Weger, Rubio, & Tebb, 2001; Doka, 2004; Farran, 1997; Fast & Chapin, 2000; Goldman, 2002; McLeod, 1999; Olshevski, Katz, & Knight, 1999). …