Caregiver bodywork: family members' experiences of caring for a person with motor neurone disease Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • AIM: This paper reports a study of how family members caring for people living with motor neurone disease managed the deteriorating body, their own bodywork and the associated emotional labour. BACKGROUND: People living with the neurodegenerative condition of motor neurone disease face the prospect of dying in 3-5 years from progressive loss of voluntary muscle mass and function, culminating in respiratory failure. Theories concerning the body in illness have been used to illustrate patient perspectives; however, family caregivers' experiences of the body have been neglected. METHOD: An ethnographic case study was undertaken with 18 primary family caregivers and six peripheral caregivers. Primary caregivers participated over 10 months in three face-to-face, semi-structured interviews which included mapping their support networks using ecomaps. Observational data were also recorded as field notes. Peripheral caregivers were interviewed once during the same time period. The data were generated between 2003 and 2004. FINDINGS: Informal caregiving requires engagement in various aspects of bodywork. Three body concepts were identified: the visible body--how the disease affected the patient and caregivers; the dependent body--the resulting care requirements; and the social body--how living with motor neurone disease affected their social support networks. The visible body is a continual reminder of the ravages of the disease, while the dependent body demands physical and emotional care. Social interactions decline over time, depriving family caregivers of the much needed support for sustaining their commitment to the bodywork required in caregiving. CONCLUSION: The demands of bodywork for family caregivers are increased by the continual presence of emotional labour as they seek to implement the best way to support their relative with motor neurone disease. Nurses and allied healthcare workers need to assess each family situation, asking appropriate questions to establish the most appropriate interventions to facilitate supportive care.

publication date

  • October 2006