School of Behavioral Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision (PhD)


Lisa Sosin


Dementia, Caregiver, Caregiver Burden, Offspring, Dyadic Relationship, Meaning-making


Counseling | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This interpretative phenomenological analysis was conducted to deepen understanding of the experience of six daughters who cared for and lived with a mother with dementia. Caregivers for a loved one with dementia experience well-documented stressors, but less is known specific to offspring who care for a parent with dementia, particularly related to their mental health needs and potential means of addressing those needs. Because family caregiving is grounded within the family system, the study utilized a systemic lens, also considering the formal caregiving and societal systems. With the exception of some benefit from paid services of adult day care or in-home care, the formal caregiving and societal systems were largely absent or not supportive in these caregivers’ stories. Findings supported the significance of a caregiver’s family of origin as an exacerbator or revealer of family dynamics in parent care, potentially opening unresolved conflicts or providing opportunities to find resolution. Other findings were that trust is salient to forming a caregiving team with or without one’s siblings; that caregiving challenges a caregiver’s identity; that dementia caregiving entails loss and, in maternal dementia care, there is loss of mother as mother; that in the stresses of dementia caregiving are positives and growth opportunities; and that finding and making meaning are important in coping with caregiving. Identified mental health needs, shaped by the role of dialectics in dementia caregiving, were for thriving, cognitive flexibility, hope, relief from family conflict, respite, and autonomy. Beneficial mental health services suggested by the findings emphasize working from a family systems lens; awareness of identity development and potential loss of self, the importance of meaning-making, the need for hope, and the threats to autonomy in caregiving; and consideration of dialectical behavior therapy skills training. The latter emerged from findings of ambiguities and dialectics experienced by the caregivers and the potential for benefit from greater dichotomous thinking. Areas recommended for further research include the family system in offspring parent care, expansion of previous studies looking at ambiguous loss in dementia caregiving, the mental health needs of understudied caregivers, the potential of dialectical behavior therapy skills training for offspring dementia caregivers, and examination of findings that hint at a phenomenon of reverse attachment in dementia parent care.

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