Informal care at times of change in health and mobility: a qualitative study

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relationships between people with health problems and their partners, families and friends are usually described as ‘informal care’. Using a qualitative examination of older people’s descriptions of their relationships with partners or other significant friends or relatives at times of change in health and mobility (walking), we questioned whether ‘informal care’ is an appropriate label.


seven men and eight women aged between 58 and 85 years (mean 72.4 years) were recruited on grounds of having difficulty walking. Participants were interviewed on four occasions each. Nine of the interviewees lived with partners, four of whom were also interviewed. Whether living alone or with a partner, all participants discussed key social relationships. Analysis was performed using standard methods of qualitative inquiry, including thematic and narrative case study approaches.


the participants had several ways of coping with health changes and the onset or escalation of immobility. These included working together to ensure recovery, working together to maintain independence and experiencing and recognising considerable difficulty coping with change. Adaptation within relationships reflected the experience of abrupt or gradual change as well as expectations for the future. Participants did not describe their relationships in terms of ‘carer’ and ‘cared for’.


means of coping with changing circumstances in mobility and health are inextricable from the work that goes on within partner, familial or friendship relationships. As older people seldom describe their relationships with significant others as ‘care’, it may be more appropriate to discuss informal care provision with patients by using the language of relationships.

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