Life after placement: experiences of older rural caregivers after placing a family member into residential care

Gayle L Ford
Rural and Remote Health 2008, 8 (3): 1030

INTRODUCTION: The community care philosophy in Australia has led to a number of older people remaining in their own homes, dependant on others for the majority of their care needs. A small number of older people being cared for by a family member or friend will move into residential aged care facilities for full-time care. This article describes a qualitative study that explored the meanings that older rural Australian caregivers gave to their day-to-day lives after their care-receiver had entered full-time residential aged care.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews with seven older caregivers were conducted to gain understandings about their 'life after placement'. Thematic analysis was employed to identify common themes. Quality of life concepts provided the boundaries to the research questions.

RESULTS: The sample included four men and three women. In the study, the men reported spending more time continuing their carer role, while the women reported being more focussed on reconnecting with the community. Both men and women reported that their own health was a major constraint in being able to maintain these two tasks. The findings mirrored those of similar studies with one notable exception: this study highlighted the meanings that caregivers gave to their lives after placement in a more holistic way, as opposed to focussing on caregivers in relation to the residential aged care facility context alone.

CONCLUSION: This study demonstrated that there are differences found in relation to gender and tasks after in-home caring roles have ended. Worry about loss of driving ability was a major concern in the caregivers' lives. The experiences of the caregivers in this study give a better understanding of what life is like for caregivers after in-home caring has ceased. Understanding of 'life after placement' expands our knowledge about carers and the role of carer. The findings suggest a need for funding and programs for caregivers after their in-home carer role has ended to assist caregivers (particularly men) in reconnecting with people and activities outside their immediate family. The findings may direct rural community development workers to appreciate the challenges that older rural caregivers face when their in-home caring role ends and visiting and socializing is dependant on their ability to drive. This study also offers a perspective for residential aged care staff to consider as they work with families placing an older family member into full-time care. If aged care staff recognise the value of the continuing caring role of the caregiver and integrate them into the care plan, enhanced positive outcomes could transpire for both caregiver and care-recipient.

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