Informal carers of older family members: how they manage and what support they receive from respite care

Sirpa Salin, Marja Kaunonen, Päivi Astedt-Kurki
Journal of Clinical Nursing 2009, 18 (4): 492-501

AIMS: To describe informal carers' coping strategies and their experiences of the support provided by respite care.

BACKGROUND: The target set in the Finnish national old age policy strategy is that 90% of the population over 75 should be able to live at home. A major source of support for older people and their families is respite care in an institution.

DESIGN: Survey.

METHODS: The data were collected among informal carers who regularly use respite care services (n = 143). Two structured questionnaires were used: the Carers' Assessment of Managing Index (Nolan et al. 1995) and an index developed by the researchers.

RESULTS: Informal carers who provided care for younger individuals or people who needed less help had a better quality of life. Spouse carers and older informal carers were less satisfied with their quality of life than younger carers. Periods of respite care had a major influence on informal carers' quality of life: 93% said they felt invigorated. Care periods remained rather isolated episodes in the lives of the older patients in that there was hardly any discussion at the institution about the family's situation, the objectives of respite care, or about how the informal carer was coping. Altogether, 47% of the nurses remained fairly distant. The most useful coping strategies involved creating alternative perspectives in the caring relationship.

CONCLUSIONS: The results strengthen the knowledge base of informal caregiving by showing how caregivers cope and what kind of support they need in their demanding caring role.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Respite care nurses should invest greater effort in supporting informal carers. The service should be developed as an integral part of home care for older people. Nurses and informal carers should see each other as partners who share a common goal, i.e. the well-being of the entire family.

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