Burden and benefit-A mixed methods study of informal Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis caregivers in Ireland and the Netherlands
Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2022 Mar 14;37(5):10.1002/gps.5704. doi: 10.1002/gps.5704. Online ahead of print.
OBJECTIVES: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a systemic and terminal disorder of the central nervous system which causes paralysis of limbs, respiratory and bulbar muscles, impacting on physical, communication, cognitive and behavioural functioning. Informal caregivers play a key role in the care of people with ALS. This study aimed to explore experiences of burden along with any beneficial aspects of caregiving in ALS. An understanding of both burden and benefit is important to support the informal caregiver and the person with ALS.
METHODS/DESIGN: This exploratory mixed methods study characterizes two groups of informal caregivers in Ireland (n = 76) and the Netherlands (n = 58). In a semi-structured interview, quantitative data were collected in the form of standardized measures assessing psychological distress, quality of life and burden. Qualitative data were collected from an open ended question, in which caregivers identified positive aspects in their caregiving experience. These data types were purposefully mixed in the analysis and interpretation stages, to provide a greater depth of evidence through diverse research lenses.
RESULTS: The caregiver cohorts were predominantly female (69%) and spouse/partners (84%) of the person with ALS. Greater levels of self-assessed burden were found among the caregivers in the Netherlands (p < 0.05), and higher levels of quality of life among the cohort from Ireland (p < 0.05). Themes generated through qualitative analysis identified caregiver satisfaction, ability to meet the patient's needs and the (re) evaluation of meaning and existential aspects of life as positive aspects of caregiving. Existential factors were identified frequently by the caregivers in Ireland, and personal satisfaction and meeting their care recipient's needs by caregivers in the Netherlands. Three percent of all respondents reported there was nothing positive about caregiving.
CONCLUSIONS: Based on our findings, we suggest that both burden and the presence of positive factors should be evaluated and monitored. The possibility of concurrent positive and challenging experiences should be considered in the design and delivery of supportive interventions for informal caregivers.