Academic journal article Family Relations

Is There Anything Left to Say about Family Caregiving?

Academic journal article Family Relations

Is There Anything Left to Say about Family Caregiving?

Article excerpt

Aneshensel, C. S., Pearlin, L. I., Mullan, J. T., Zarit, S. H., and Whitlatch, Carol J. (1995). Profiles in Caregiving: The Unexpected Career. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. 385 pp. Paper ISBN-0-12-059540-0, price $39.95.

Hooyman, N. R. and Gonyea, J. (1995) Feminist Perspectives on Family Care: Policies for Gender Justice. Family Caregiver Applications Series, Vol. 6. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 418 pp. Paper ISBN 0-8039-5142-6, price $27.50.

Nolan, M., Grant, G., & Keady, J. (1997). Understanding Family Care: Buckingham Open University Press. 194 pp. Hardcover ISBN 0-335-19574-1, price $79.00

Wasow, M. (1995). The Skipping Stone: Ripple Effects of Mental Illness on the Family. Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books. 232 pp. Paper ISBN 0-8314-0082-X, price $16.95.

In 1988, I was asked to give a talk at a professional meeting of sociologists titled, "Is There Anything Left to Say about Family Caregiving?" I reviewed the current research and concluded that, while a great deal had been said about caregiving burden and stress and the demographics of caregiving, there were many areas not yet understood. Over the past nine years, the question and the refrain, "Not another caregiver study?" continues to haunt researchers in gerontology and family studies. The four books reviewed here reminded me that yes, there are fresh perspectives to bring to the study of family caregiving. We may never be able to say all that can be said about the complex phenomena of how families provide care for dependent adults across the life span. In many respects, we are still struggling with the dilemma of how to grasp reality by examining only a part.

There is another aspect to the question raised in this essay. The challenge lies not only in what we say, but in how we say it, to what audience, and for what purpose. Care-receivers, caregivers, family members, researchers, educators, practitioners, and policy makers all look at different aspects of the caregiving experience, no doubt convinced that their perspective is the most relevant one. Insights and assumptions taken for granted among one group often become new knowledge for other groups. In thinking about how to address the issues raised about caregiving by these diverse volumes, I struggled with a classic research dilemma: Is it more useful to begin with caregiver's lived experiences in their own words and then gradually develop generalizations and more systematic perspectives? Or should we begin with a general theory and then examine how closely empirical data and grounded experiences support this knowledge? While the selection of books for this essay was somewhat random (i.e., there are other caregiving books published in recent years) they do form a hierarchy, from closeness to caregiver's lived experience to abstract theory. Therefore, I have decided to assess how each volume provides insights to issues raised at more grounded levels.

These four books illustrate diversity in emphasis and audience. Hooyman and Gonyea (1995) focus on the broad societal level, providing a thoughtful feminist critique of public policy in caregiving and emphasizing how these policies are oppressive to women who provide most of the care euphemistically called "family caregiving" Aneshensel and colleagues (1995) report the detailed results of a four-wave longitudinal study of caregivers of persons with dementia, drawing on a comprehensive, integrated, theoretical stress-process framework and sophisticated quantitative analyses. Nolan, Grant, and Keady (1996) offer a multi-dimensional perspective also based on the stress-coping literature, but emphasizing the role of personal meaning of caregivers in coping with difficult life events and implications for practice. Wasow (1996) approaches the topic of mental illness and the family by combining a qualitative study and personal insights to focus on how families and practitioners need to learn from each other to understand the ripple effects of mental illness on all family members, not just the primary caregiver. …

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