Family caregivers of stroke victims say the experience has led to positive personal growth and life enrichment once they overcame the shock of their relative’s illness, according to a new study.
For the study, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, researchers at Cardiff University set out to understand what sustains a caregiver’s role and what makes caregiving a positive and fulfilling experience.
“Most research has, up until now, focused on the negative outcomes of those caring for stroke patients — and so the most surprising aspect about our research is that carers in our study were consistently able to regard their caring role as having been a positive experience, despite the trauma they endured,” said research co-author Reg Morris, Ph.D., from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology.
“Traumatic experiences are seismic events that shatter a person’s known world: their goals, beliefs and ability to make sense of life,” he added.
“But by repeatedly thinking about your trauma in a pragmatic and sense-making way; reminiscing and looking to the future; proactively trying to manage the problem; and using the support of those around you, then it is not only possible, but likely that you will experience positive growth after trauma.”
The study surveyed caregivers of stroke survivors on average nine years after the stroke. Most participants had attended stroke clubs organized by The Stroke Association or The Bristol Area Stroke Foundation.
As well as detecting whether psychological growth had occurred, the study looked into a range of practical and psychological factors to determine which of these contributed to growth and positive outcomes for the caregivers.
“We were intrigued to find that positive outcomes of trauma for carers depended more on psychological factors than on practical matters such as level of disability and age.
“We hope to build on this work using prospective studies and by exploring whether we can promote those factors that we have shown to encourage growth, so that growth and the positive outcomes for stroke carers are improved and occur sooner after the stroke,” Morris said.
The study is one of the first to investigate how stroke caregivers rely on positive and sustaining aspects of caregiving rather than focusing on its negative aspects, such as the burden, stress and depression.
“Stroke causes an emotional shockwave for stroke survivors and carers alike. All too often carers are left to adjust to their new role alone. This report highlights our belief that a life after stroke is possible with the right information, advice and support,” said Chris Clark, UK Director of Life After Stroke Services at the Stroke Association.
Source: British Psychological Society