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Blog post written by Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MBP Consulting, LLC, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Extension

As a caregiver, I focus on the needs of my husband and on ways to manage our hectic lives. So when I get a request to participate in a research study about my caregiving experiences, my first thought was, “NO way.” I don’t have an extra minute to spare to take time to complete a survey or talk to someone on the phone. Yet lately, I’ve been wondering if by not participating in the research my voice and others like me aren’t included. My personal realization about needing to participate in research is reinforced as I reviewed some of the most recent studies on family caregiving. So the goal of this blog article is to convince you to join me in saying, “YES,” the next time you are recruited for a caregiving research project.

In looking at the research on family caregivers, a majority of the studies done over 20 years ago were mostly about caring for older adults. There was little research on military caregivers, especially younger military caregivers. There was some research on caring for children with disabilities who were under 18 years of age, but nothing on children caring for their parents. Within the last few years the amount of research on caregivers has increased for several reasons: (1) an aging population resulting in more people needing caregivers, (2) public programs (Medicare, VA, and other military programs) responding to needs of their clients, (3) recognition that family members providing care is less costly than institutionalization, and (4) interest in disease or illness specific research such as caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injury. This research provides data needed to help policy makers make better decisions, offers information to professionals so they can provide better services, and highlights the needs of families so services can be created and educational programs developed.

Regardless of the study’s caregiver audience, there are similarities and differences between the caregiver types. For example, all caregivers experience stress but the reasons for the stress are different. A young caregiver may experience stress because they are employed and caring for other children, while an older caregiver may be caring for an aging parent or spouse. There are many combinations, but what is important is that the differences come to light in the research. These studies have been helpful in creating public policy and educational programs resulting in professionals treating all caregivers as individuals as one size does not fit all.

In you aren’t aware of recent caregiver studies here are a few that might interest you:

If you want to explore ways to participate in family caregiver research, search family caregiver websites review researcher’s descriptions of their project and identify characteristics of the caregivers within their studying. For example, there is currently a research project on TBI from the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Researchers also seek caregivers by connecting with blogs, other social media sites and caregiver networks as a way to secure possible caregivers for their studies. As caregivers, we can also promote and share announcements of research studies with caregivers we know and the caregiver social media outlets we visit.

So share your thoughts, ideas, and wisdom about being a caregiver so research will have the voice of military caregivers!

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This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on March 18, 2016.