When a person experiences impairment or declining health, caregiving typically falls to a family member, most often a spouse. This increased burden can cause burnout, stress, and illness in the caregiver. The health care system focuses first on the client and provides little support for the caregiver.
A study just published in the journal Insight: Research and Practice in Visual Impairment and Blindness explores levels of burden and depression reported by caregivers. This Canadian study focuses on people over the age of 65 with blindness, deafness, or both impairments, and the spouse or partner who serves as caregiver.
Nearly 21% of seniors with disabilities in Canada are afflicted with vision loss. More than 50% of Canadians older than 65 have inner ear hearing loss. Among those 70 years and older, 9% to 21% have some degree of dual-sensory loss.
Twenty-five participants, spouses to clients of a vision and hearing loss rehabilitation center, were recruited for this study. Of the clients, six had vision loss, eight had hearing loss, five had dual-sensory loss, and six were control participants with no sensory loss. Participants were ages 65 to 93.
The current study used two survey instruments, the Caregiver Burden Scale and the Geriatric Depression Scale. These surveys address topics such as caregivers' health, psychological well-being, finances, social life, and relationship with the person receiving care.
The hypothesis was that spouses whose partners had sensory loss would report higher levels of both burden and depression compared to the control group. However, the current study did not find this result on a statistically significant level. In fact, the one comparison that did show a significant difference indicated that those in the control group, with no sensory loss, experienced a greater feeling of burden than those in the hearing-impaired group.
These results were somewhat surprising, yet they did show a significant relationship between increased perception of burden and higher levels of depression. Despite the limitation of a small number of study participants, these results could indicate that burden and depression are generally more widespread in older adults and are not specifically linked to a disability or health status.
Full text of the article, "Depression and Burden in Spouses of Individuals with Sensory Impairment," Insight: Research and Practice in Visual Impairment and Blindness, Vol. 4, No. 1, Summer 2011, is available at www2.allenpress.com/pdf/aerj-04-01-29-36.pdf.
About Insight: Research and Practice in Visual Impairment and Blindness Insight: Research and Practice in Visual Impairment and Blindness is a quarterly journal in the field of education and rehabilitation of persons of all ages with low vision or blindness. The journal features excellent research that can be applied in a practical setting as well as best-practice examples that contain enough detail to be implemented by other practitioners. The journal reports on informative and helpful practices, research findings, professional experiences, experiments, and controversial issues. It is the official publication of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). To learn more about the society, please visit: www.aerbvi.org
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