UA Student Conducts Research in Health of Caregivers
Prospective parents may expect to forget about having time to themselves, going out or having an uninterrupted night’s sleep, at least for a period of time while their children are fully dependent on them. Parents may also expect to be done putting another person’s basic needs above their own as their child becomes older. But what happens when the mom, dad or spouse of a parent develops a mind-altering condition that increasingly prevents them from tending to their everyday and long-term personal needs?
Senior social work major Paige Johnston has taken a special interest in the well-being of caregivers, those who care for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, in particular. It was a little after 2 p.m. on a Monday when she sat down at Arsaga’s on campus to tell about how her interest led to her recent reception of an Honors College research grant and what she hopes to accomplish.
Johnston said she is primarily concerned with the high mortality rate and stress levels of full-time caregivers. There is a need for people who have a heart for both them and those being cared for, she said.
“I was a caregiver, so I know how hard it can be, and I only did it 40 hours a week,” she said. “It’s emotionally draining because they can’t do anything for themselves.” Johnston worked at Homestyle Assisted Living in Springdale.
“I love the elderly, and I loved working with those people,” she said.
Johnston will be basing her research off of a local respite care program called Caring Friends at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville. The program allows caregivers to leave their loved ones with volunteers from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays to engage in various activities for $10. The purpose is to give caregivers time to themselves at a price they can afford.
Johnston said she realized how much of a difference only four hours can make when she talked to a woman who had utilized the program who told her, “I haven’t had a four-hour period to run errands and eat lunch by myself in so long.”
Johnston said her primary goal is to prove that more affordable respite services like St. Paul’s should be offered in Arkansas in order to decrease the stress levels of caregivers. Because the baby-boomer generation is now at the age where Alzheimer’s and dementia will soon become concerns, the demand for full-time caregivers, as well as the need for programs that take the edge off for caregivers, is going to increase, she said.
“I interviewed this caregiver last semester and she went on and on about how thankful she was (for the program) because the people actually loved and cared for her husband,” Johnston said. “She could see that he was happier, so she didn’t feel guilty (about leaving him).”
Johnston’s thesis adviser and mentor is Alishia Ferguson, assistant professor of social work.
“She’s so encouraging and understanding that I’m new to this,” Johnston said. “She helps me learn and understand the big picture. She’s such a strong force in the field of social work. I’m going to be a professional social worker soon, and I look up to her as someone I’d like to be like.”
The research grant will allow Johnston to conduct a study that she hopes to ultimately show the importance that more of these programs exist.
“I want more people to know about it,” she said.
She plans to have participants answer a questionnaire before the study actually starts in order to get an idea of outside stress factors the caregivers may already have. Her control group will consist of caregivers not using a respite service, and her intervention group will consist of ones who are. All caregivers will text their stress levels on a scale of 1 to 10 each day to Johnston. She hopes the data will back up and give credit to her hypothesis that giving the caregivers a break, even for a short time, will significantly decrease their overall stress levels, which would affect the mortality rate and the well-being of the caregivers.
Johnston said that although she enjoys the field of aging, she is open to working with children, teens or families and to “wherever life leads.”