The understanding and experience of anxiety in older adults caring for partners with stroke : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology, Massey University
Anxiety has been increasingly recognized as a serious health concern in older adults and is reported by many caregivers. However, still relatively little is known about the experience or presentation of anxiety in later life or about how that anxiety relates to caregiving. Much of the research into late-life anxiety has focused on anxiety disorders and has been carried out with reference to younger age groups, using diagnostic and psychometric measures developed, in the main, for younger people. There appear to be few studies in the literature that explore late-life anxiety as an independent phenomenon or that examine the effects of contextual factors on that anxiety. No studies could be found that investigate non-clinical experiences of anxiety in later life, starting from the perspectives of older adults themselves; neither could any studies be found that specifically investigate anxiety-related experiences of elderly people caring for partners with stroke. The present study explores how older adults, caring for partners with stroke, understand and experience anxiety. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine older adults, aged from 65 to 80 years, who were living in the community and were caregivers for partners with stroke. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to identify themes within their accounts. Three master themes were identified: the phenomenon of anxiety, views that influence anxiety, and the experience of anxiety. Emergent themes describe participants' shared, main sources of anxiety, the signs and symptoms by which they recognized anxiety and the strategies that they had developed to cope with anxiety. A range of views about self, caregiving and ageing was identified that appeared to shape the anxiety that participants experienced. Findings highlight the chronic nature of the anxiety experienced by older spousal caregivers and suggest ways in which older caregivers can successfully deal with that anxiety. They provide a useful foundation for further research that seeks to determine which older adults are likely to experience anxiety problems in caregiving and also for programmes that seek to support elderly people who are caring for partners with stroke.