A qualitative, longitudinal analysis of the experiences of families caring for disabled, older persons in the community

Virginia Johnson Smith, University of Pennsylvania


Family Caregiving is a critical social issue. For society, as a whole, the informal caregiving network is a major component of the health care system of older persons, as it provides the majority of services received by disabled members. For the family itself, caring for an impaired person is another role which, like child rearing and socialization, has its impact in terms of both rewards and problems. This study examines the experiences of a group of caregivers of older persons recently discharged from an inpatient rehabilitation facility. Recommendations regarding approaches to enhance this informal network of service are provided. Data were collected at three different times over a four year period. The first and second data sets collected obtained information on the caregivers and care recipients at discharge and at nine months post-discharge. This information profiled the sample of twenty-two families in terms of demographics, health and mental status, caregiving problems, and scores on specific measures of caregiver burden. The third phase of data collection, and the major focus of the study, employed a qualitative approach to examining the experiences of seven of the surviving caregiving situations after a four year period. Unstructured interviews were conducted with the caregivers and case studies were developed. A major finding of the study is a high level of adjustment by caregivers to this sometimes difficult role. Two adjustment patterns were observed. Recommendations for assisting families caring for older persons after an inpatient rehabilitation experience include an expanded discharge planning and case management system and educational program. The author concludes that coping styles of the study participants were individual, reflecting the various personalities of the caregivers and the social framework presented by each family situation. The need for attention on the part of researchers to the qualitative and individual experiences of caregivers when examining this phenomenon is recommended.

Subject Area

Gerontology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Public health

Recommended Citation

Smith, Virginia Johnson, "A qualitative, longitudinal analysis of the experiences of families caring for disabled, older persons in the community" (1990). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9026649.