Above: Shawn Christensen, who has been coping with chronic pain triggered by a bad fall he incurred during his Army service, has relied on his mother, Maxine Christensen, for caregiving help in recent years. To read their story, visit VA Research Currents. (Photo by Amil Daniels)
This article originally appeared in VA Research Currents.
The majority of military personnel and Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are reporting that they have little trouble readjusting to a normal lifestyle after returning home.
Many others, however, are coming back with serious physical or mental health problems. A large percentage of them are under the age of 30, are unmarried, and are battling traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, depression, or musculoskeletal injuries.
Who cares for these people if they’re unable to function on their own? It’s usually parents who take on that demanding job.
VA researchers hoping to improve the experience of parent caregivers are carrying out a study that compares the effectiveness of two programs. One is called Resources for Enhancing All Caregivers’ Health in the VA (REACH VA), a well-established behavioral program for caregivers. It involves one-on-one telephone sessions focusing on education, support, and skill-building, which are all critical elements for successful caregiver programs. The skill-building includes tips on communication, stress management, problem solving, and reframing negative thoughts.
The other program—or the control group—is based on a recorded webinar presentation. The webinar focuses on caregiving risk factors, such as safety concerns, emotional and physical well-being, and social support. It doesn’t include the skill-building or cognitive reframing components.
The researchers are recruiting 80 parent caregivers to participate in each program.
The goal of the study is two-fold: to determine which program is more effective at helping the parents improve their feelings of depression, anxiety, and burden; and to determine the feasibility of using one-on-one sessions with this population of caregivers.
Dr. Linda Nichols and Dr. Jennifer Martindale-Adams of the Memphis VA Medical Center are leading the three-year trial. They are co-directors of VA’s National Caregiver Center. Staff there are trained to work with caregivers, provide services to caregivers of Veterans and to Vets who are caregivers, and to conduct research on the best practices to help caregivers. Nichols and Martindale-Adams are also on the faculty in preventative medicine at the University of Tennessee.
VA’s Caregiver Support Program funds the National Caregiver Center.
Martindale-Adams says this is the first study to test the effectiveness of a program focusing on parent caregivers of Veterans and service members. Several observational studies have highlighted the challenges faced by that cohort.
“A few years ago, a friend who was an Air Force National Guard general asked us if we’d consider doing the same kind of support work we were doing with caregivers of parents suffering from dementia,” Martindale-Adams says. “So we began working with spouses of post-deployed service members and Veterans struggling with reintegration. Many of those spouses are caregivers, but they don’t always realize it. When we were working with spouses, we got calls from parents asking to be included in our three-year trial because there was nothing there for them. That was the impetus for this study.”
To read the full article, click here to visit VA Research Currents.
More information about VA research on caregiving can be found here.