Step Up for Dementia Research

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Social Support as an Important Factor in Caregiver Resilience

Monday, May 25th, 2020

How well we “bounce back”, or adapt to adversity, is taken as a sign of resilience, and a significant protective factor for our mental health when encountering life challenges. Currently, 91% of people with dementia living in our community rely on an informal or unpaid carer to support them[1]. Caring for someone with dementia can be stressful.  Often, these carers show extraordinary resilience.

A study to come out of Spain earlier this year, looked at the relationships between resilience, social support, and perceived sense of strain or burden in caregivers of people with dementia[2]. They interviewed 238 participants who had been performing caregiving tasks for at least three months.  Questionnaires assessed the caregivers’ general wellbeing, symptoms of anxiety and depression, caregiving burden, resilience, and perceived type and amount of social support. The caregivers also answered questions about the functional and cognitive ability of the person with dementia they were caring for.

Reach out for Resilience

The Spanish research team found that resilience and social support were associated with lower caregiver burden. This was even after controlling for the number of hours spent caring each day, and the cognitive and functional ability of the person with dementia.  Interestingly, it was social support that mediated the effect of resilience on caregivers’ burden.  What does that mean?  Well, one possible interpretation is that accessing social support, reaching out to family and friends, may account for, or partially explain, the helpful effect that resilience has on caregivers’ perceived sense of burden.

Notwithstanding, the study had several limitations.  Caregivers may have felt a perceived pressure – to convey an impression of coping or good health.  Also, the data was only collected at one snapshot in time, thus we cannot be certain of which direction each factor influences the other, only that they are associated.

Advocates for Connection

Nonetheless, the finding has significant face validity. “Don’t go it alone”, “do ask for support”, are key messages conveyed by caregiver advocates time and time again[3].  This message takes on special meaning, perhaps even more so, during these challenging times of COVID-19.  Social distancing does not mean social isolation.  Make that connection.

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14

National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500

 


[1] https://www.dementia.org.au/media-releases/2019/support-for-informal-carers-under-the-spotlight-at-royal-commission-into-aged-care

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167494319301955

[3] https://www.stepupfordementiaresearch.org.au/category/volunteer-stories/

 
The University of Sydney

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