Bereaved family caregivers’ adjustment to loss: developing evidence to support healthy adjustment

Providing care for someone with a life threatening illness is a difficult job that taxes family members’ emotional and physical resources. Changes in the health care system have increased the amount of care family caregivers provide at home, with the result that many are caring for a loved one seven days a week for weeks and months. About half of these family caregivers report chronic illnesses of their own, and up to a third have symptoms of depression. Painful emotions experienced by family caregivers can worsen when the ill person dies. Bereaved family caregivers suffer from exhaustion and emotional distress, and are at risk for developing health problems, including illness, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Even the most resilient people experience significant distress in the early months of bereavement. Health care providers do their best to respond to bereaved family caregivers’ needs, but little is known about what helps to foster adjustment in bereavement or when particular interventions would be most useful. Moira Cairns is asking bereaved family caregivers what they find helpful and unhelpful, with the goal of determining what types of care and support health professionals can offer to reduce physical, mental and social health risks and promote healthy adjustment among bereaved family caregivers.