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Being “on the alert” and “a forced volunteer”: a qualitative study of the invisible care provided by the next of kin of patients with chronic heart failure

Authors Strøm A, Lauvli Andersen K, Korneliussen K, Fagermoen MS

Received 4 February 2015

Accepted for publication 7 April 2015

Published 3 June 2015 Volume 2015:8 Pages 271—277


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Dr Scott Fraser

Anita Strøm,1 Kirsti Lauvli Andersen,2 Kari Korneliussen,3 May Solveig Fagermoen4

1Department of Masters and Continuing Education, Lovisenberg Diaconal University College, Oslo, Norway; 2Faculty of Health and Social Work Studies, Østfold University College, Halden, Norway; 3Heart Failure Clinic, Vestfold Hospital Trust, Tønsberg, Norway; 4Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Background: Relatives’ support is an important factor in how well people with chronic heart failure (CHF) manage their illness and everyday life. Deepening professionals' understanding of the content of relatives’ invisible care activities, often characterized as care burden, is necessary to strengthen support services.
Objective: To explore the next of kin’s experiences of invisible care and the inherent responsibilities in caring for a relative with CHF.
Design, setting, and methods: Relatives were recruited from CHF outpatient clinics and home care services. Seventeen women and two men were interviewed, age range 45–83 years; 12 were partners, and seven were daughters. The qualitative interviews were taped and transcribed and thematic cross-case analyses were performed.
Results: Two main themes were revealed. The first, “being on the alert”, refers to a perceived need, real or assumed, to be aware day and night, whether present with the patient or not, that occupies the mind, emotions, and body. The second theme, “being a forced volunteer”, refers to two different dimensions: relatives'’ own perceptions of responsibility with regard to the patient's needs; and voiced or silent expectations from the patient, family members, and health personnel that the relative will help the patient. Both findings appeared to have positive and negative impacts on the relationship with the patient.
Conclusion: The identified themes reflect how challenging being a next of kin of CHF patients can be. The results may deepen professionals’ understanding of the relatives’ invisible care burden and the importance of their subjective task-related feelings. More studies on invisible care and the attendant responsibilities are needed and also on relatives’ inherent resources.

Keywords: informal caregivers, task-related feelings, social support, care burden

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