As with other areas of empirical study, researchers conducting studies on caregiving need to take into account a series of methodological concerns specific to caregiving. Researchers should take careful note of the need to:
- Review the literature carefully to prevent repetition of areas which have already been well-studied
- Understand methodological trade-offs that affect the feasibility of conducting certain kinds of studies
- Consider key considerations that often compel caregiving researchers to make tough choices about the questions they wish to study
Review of the Literature
A sufficiently thorough literature review should be undertaken because many areas of caregiving research are already very well developed. It may be difficult to add new and important information to a given topic. For example, there are already many studies documenting cross-sectional associations of caregiver distress with indicators of caregiving stress, personality, and social support among care recipients with dementia, stroke, cancer, and other prevalent chronic conditions.
There are methodological trade-offs that will affect the feasibility of conducting certain kinds of studies. For instance, a project that attempts to identify very homogenous groups of caregivers may have difficulty accruing significant sample sizes. Examples:
- A project that attempts to recruit African American husbands caring for wives in the aftermath of stroke might be difficult to accomplish because of the relatively low life expectancies of African American men, the likelihood that daughters become the family caregiver for African American women, and the relatively low percentage of older African American women who are married.
- A sample of caregivers for persons who have recently incurred a spinal cord injury—a condition of relatively low incidence--might also be difficult to recruit within a brief period of time.
- A sample of parents of children with a rare hereditary cancer syndrome, like Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (about 1000 known cases) would be difficult to accomplish at any single site.
Consequently, researchers must often compromise to recruit sufficient samples (unless they have extensive financial support or can link to a larger project such as the Nurses’ Health Study).
Key considerations that often compel caregiving researchers to make tough choices about the questions they wish to study
In an article highly recommended by this APA Task Force, “A future for family care and dementia intervention research? Challenges and strategies,” Zarit and Femia (2008) discuss a number of important research issues which they urge researchers to address in caregiver intervention research.
Here is list of key considerations that often compel caregiving researchers to make tough choices about the questions they wish to study:
- Population-based samples versus clinical or convenience samples
- Defining caregiving
- Relationship of the caregiver to the care-recipient
- Methods of evaluating interventions
- Next best designs
- Inclusion and exclusion criteria
- Measurement challenges specific to caregiving
- The kind of change being studied
- Difficulties in generalizing
- Weighing the potential of a potent intervention package against real-world limitations
- Challenges in studies of caregiving in pediatrics
- Innovative methods
Zarit, S. H., & Femia, E. E. (2008). A future for family care and dementia intervention research? Challenges and strategies. Aging & Mental Health, 12, 5-13.