Interconnections Between My Research and Experience as a Caregiver: Impacts on Empirical and Personal Perspectives

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Abstract

Shortly after I received my first R01 grant to study the health effects of caregiving, my sister and I became caregivers to our father. For the next 13 years, we helped him with activities of daily living (ADLs), accompanied him to doctors’ appointments, arranged for home health care, and finally for home hospice. At first, I was able to connect our assistance with ADLs, frustration with coordinating his care, and our psychological stress with my epidemiologic studies. My familiarity with the language of caregiving and long-term care helped us to navigate the medical and home care systems, and to be advocates for my father. However, as my father’s health declined, I felt an increasing disconnect between my research and my experience: communicating with physicians and other care providers, responding to crises and conversations with my sister about placing our father in a nursing home were greater sources of stress than my father’s dementia. These discrepancies made me realize that I could help caregivers more by helping them to negotiate these challenges than through performing quantitative research. So I enrolled in a counseling psychology program. My manuscript will chronicle the ways that caregiving changed me; how my professional work did and did not help me as a caregiver; how the developmental and family theories that I am learning in my psychology classes have expanded my understanding of stressors facing adult child caregivers, and how this entire experience ties into generativity and Third Chapter careers that build on midlife experiences.

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