Jason T. Newsom, Ph.D. & Richard Schulz, Ph.D.

One of the first studies examining the effects of care-giving on older people suffering from physical disability showed that they don't always receive the appropriate amount of help they need, and almost 40 percent actually reported emotional distress from being helped. Research reported "Health Psychology", published by the American Psychological Association (APA), also indicates that negative responses to help from a caregiver may lead to more depression among care recipients up to one year after participation in the study.

In a study of 276 physically disabled older Americans age 65 and over (average age - 76 years) requiring regular assistance with one or more daily activities from their spousal caregivers, psychologists found that 50 percent of disabled care recipients reported being helped with activities unnecessarily, while 28 percent reported not receiving help that they needed. "We are starting to learn that family care giving may not always be as successful as we assumed it to be," says Dr. Newsom, lead author of the study.

Some of the factors that may predict negative responses to help included greater physical impairment, lower self-esteem, and a perceived lack of ability to control events in one's life. The study participants were suffering from a range of disabling conditions, including arthritis, stroke, heart disease, and eye disease.

The study found that negative reactions to being helped was associated with depression a year after the study, suggesting that unwanted help or imprecise help may have long-lasting effects. Since providing care for individuals suffering exclusively from physical impairments is usually less challenging than caring for the mentally impaired, particularly individuals suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, the authors suggest that developing appropriate helping behaviors may be even more important when caring for the mentally impaired.

Further research on negative reactions to care giving may increase knowledge of the relationship between physical impairment and depression. The researchers suggest future research should aim to collect more information concerning specific types of negative reactions care recipients demonstrate resulting from spousal assistance while measuring which caregiver behaviors are viewed unfavorably by the physically impaired. The authors conclude that "the potential consequences for the mental health of care recipients also suggest the need for interventions that may ultimately improve care giving exchanges and the quality of life for care recipients." Improved communication seems to be the key.

Reference: "Caregiving from the Recipient's Perspective: Negative Reactions to Being Helped" by Jason T. Newsom, Ph.D. and Richard Schulz, Ph.D. in Health Psychology, Vol. 17, No. 2.

Updated 6/06/08
by Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D. 

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.


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