Published on 02 Dec 2020

How to avoid caregiver burden? Self-determination is key, say psychologists

A Singapore study of family caregivers of the terminally ill suggests that self-determination is the key factor that can protect them from caregiver burden – a negative state impacting a carer’s wellbeing.

A team of NTU psychologist interviewed 20 family caregivers and found that they tend to be motivated and satisfied in their caregiving when they have built up self-determination. This is defined as becoming competent in caregiving related tasks, gaining a strong sense of kinship with both the patient and other family members, and taking control and ownership of their caregiving responsibilities.

Unlike previous studies in other countries which have suggested that pragmatic interventions, such as access to resources and availability of social support, are key to a caregiver’s wellbeing, the NTU study focused on the internal psychological processes that motivate family caregivers to support their loved ones who are at the end of their lives.

Principal investigator of the study Associate Professor Andy Ho from the Psychology programme at the NTU School of Social Sciences, said, “Policymakers and healthcare professionals often focus on the hardware for family caregivers, such as healthcare subsidies and proper lift-and-carry techniques. While it is undoubtedly beneficial to relieve family caregivers of those tangible stressors, our findings serve as a reminder that the ‘heartware’ is equally important too. The internal beliefs, values and goals of family caregivers are ultimately what give them the strength to sustain themselves positively and embrace the caregiving journey when the going gets tough.”

The research findings have also led to the publication of a self-help book for family caregivers and patients. Funded by the Ministry of Education, the self-help book will be distributed to more than 60 palliative care units and hospice care institutions.

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