Academic journal article Family Relations

Family Caregivers' Patterns of Positive and Negative Affect*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Family Caregivers' Patterns of Positive and Negative Affect*

Article excerpt


Stressful and positive family caregiving experiences were examined as predictors of caregivers' patterns of positive and negative affect in a sample of families providing care for a relative with dementia (N = 234). Four affect pattern groups were identified: (a) Well Adjusted (i.e., high positive affect, low negative affect); (b) Ambiguous (i.e., low on both positive and negative affect); (c) Intense (i.e., high on both positive and negative affect); and (d) Distressed (i.e., high negative affect, low positive affect). A multivariate model that included demographic characteristics and indicators of stressful and positive experiences of caregiving yielded 2 significant discriminant functions that served to classify caregivers correctly into their known affect groups. Implications for improving intervention efforts targeting family caregivers are discussed.

Key Words: dementia, family caregivers, negative affect, positive affect.

Family members provide the majority of care provided to older adults with functional impairments. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons (1997), more than 22 million households in the United States are involved in caregiving for someone older than 50 years. Many of these family caregivers provide care for older adults with progressive memory impairments; approximately 4 million older adults have Alzheimer's disease alone, which does not take into account those suffering from related dementias. Because age is the primary risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, the number of people with the disease is expected to reach 11.3-16 million as early as 2050 (Hebert, Scherr, Bienias, Bennett, & Evans, 2003). Population aging, increases in life expectancy, and social policy further underscore the salience of family caregiving networks.

Family Caregiving

Providing care to a family member afflicted with dementia can be very demanding for spouses and adult children, who often provide the majority of care within the family context. The experience of providing family care has been associated with negative outcomes for caregivers including stress, strain, physical and mental health problems, and burden (Aneshensel, Pearlin, Mullen, Zarit, & Whitlatch, 1995; Schulz & Beach, 1999). Despite the pervasive focus in the research literature on the detrimental consequences of caregiving, the majority of caregivers often have something positive to say about their experiences (Kramer, 1997). Positive emotions and experiences have been shown to be important for coping and resilience (Folkman, 1997; Folkman & Moskowitz, 2000; Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002; Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). In a chronic stress situation like caregiving, they may facilitate adaptive responses to stress such as somatic health and positive psychological and adaptive functioning (Folkman, 1997). Addressing the positive aspects of caregiving does not discount the serious nature of negative outcomes associated with caregiving but points to the importance of examining positive experiences in conjunction with stressful experiences of caregiving in order to gain a fuller understanding of interindividual differences.

In this study, we examined the relation between family caregivers' perceptions of their caregiving experience and their own positive and negative affect. While some researchers have considered positive and negative affect as part of a single bipolar continuum (see Russell & Carroll, 1999), others have argued for their independence (Bradburn, 1969). A third perspective that has emerged suggests that the relationship between the affects depends on context, in particular stress and individual differences. While current theoretical models of affect in adulthood provide a general framework for investigating these relationships, there is no clear theoretical foundation in the literature that fully accounts for the role of caregiving experiences in determining affective patterns. …

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