June 1, 2021

Reciprocal Burden: Adults with Drug-Resistant Epilepsy Reflect Upon Informal Caregiver Support

Abstract, originally published in Seizure

Purpose: To explore how a sample of people with uncontrolled seizures describe their experiences of receiving informal supportive care.

Methods: Using constructivist grounded theory, in-person, semi-structured interviews were conducted in 35 adults with drug-resistant epilepsy. These 20 (57%) women and 15 (43%) men were aged 18-68 years (mean= 35.6 years), with a range of verbal comprehension scores. The majority, 28 (80%) lived in nuclear family settings.

Results: Unpredictable seizures disrupted personal autonomy and generated unique challenges for everyday life. While supportive care was deemed necessary to survival, subjective reflections around the implications of care-receiving and caregiving, were ultimately experienced as mutually burdensome. Four dynamic and interactive dimensions revealed a mirrored, interactive perspective of what it meant to be a care-recipient: assuming responsibility; protecting and supervising; acknowledging reliance and setting boundaries. Care-recipience was not one-sided, but included actively hiding personal struggles as a way to shield the caregiver from the emotional and physical demands of caregiving. Relationship dynamics between caregivers and care-recipients played a major role in treatment decision-making. A clinically useful Theory of Reciprocal Burden resulted from our study.

Conclusions: This study adds an explanatory dimension to the concept of illness burden from the perspective of care-recipients. Relationship dynamics play a key role in patient-centered epilepsy care, with clinical implications for guiding supportive caregiving, fostering independence and promoting self-management strategies.

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