Risk Factors & Family Caregiving


Donna Lero (University of Guelph), Norah Keating and Janet Fast (University of Alberta), Gillian Joseph (University of Guelph), Linda Cook (University of Guelph)

Description of Project:

The purpose of this project was to summarize existing knowledge on the risk factors associated with negative outcomes for family and friend caregivers, and to identify knowledge gaps and policy-relevant research questions. Canadian and international research studies that were published between 2000 to 2007 were summarized and risk factors identified that relate to caregivers’ stress, burnout, and health.

Different risk factors are more salient for different outcomes and populations of caregivers/care recipients. Moreover, it is important to consider the longer-term consequences of caregiving, as well as those that are more immediate to a particular experience or particular care recipient at one point in time. Given both the complexity of the issues and significant knowledge gaps stemming from the lack of data that includes the caregiving context and impacts over time, we have focused on clearly identifying the potential costs (outcomes) that caregivers may experience and the risk factors that are evident in the literature. The review includes examples of the interplay among these risk factors for several different situations including care for seniors with and without cognitive impairment, care for children with disabilities, care for a family member with a mental illness, and (to a lesser extent) care for non-senior adults.

Multiple factors, operating together, affect the nature and intensity of caregiving, and the degree to which caregiving demands become stressors or stressful for caregivers. High caregiving costs result when caregiving demands exceed caregivers’ resources. Exacerbating factors include lack of support from family, friends and formal/professional caregivers, limited personal or family financial resources, high financial costs, stigma, and caregiving of long duration and/or with an uncertain or unpredictable trajectory. Employment-related costs that result in exclusion from or only a marginal attachment to the labour force are most evident for caregivers (notably women) with significant long-term care responsibilities that begin in the early stages of their earning career.

Resources are low for certain caregivers and caregiving situations. These include caregivers with health problems, limited income and savings, and compromised capacities for sustaining full- time employment. High caregiving demands also increase risk. Especially relevant are increasingly complex care demands for individuals with health conditions or medical problems that require intensive involvement on the part of caregivers; care for individuals with dementia, serious mental illness, deteriorating functional capabilities and problematic behaviours; and long-term, intense caregiving. The gendered impacts of caregiving are also highly visible in the research, and should not be ignored.