Gerontological social work student-delivered respite: A community-university partnership pilot program

Author(s): Washington, T.R. and Tachman, J.A.

Published In: Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 60 (1): 48-67

Study Aim/Purpose: This study analyzes satisfaction with a small short-term pilot home-based respite program intended to fill a service gap for dementia caregivers. 

Summary of Methods: The authors used a qualitative research design, analyzing caregiver responses from pre- and post-intervention semi-structured caregiver interviews to assess satisfaction with the Houseguest program. This program implemented by Masters-level social work students at the University of Georgia provided 7 respite hours in four home visits for caregivers of older adults. Thematic analysis identified common themes in three broad categories: meeting caregiver needs, meeting care recipient needs, and perception of program components. 

Summary of Results: Qualitative analysis produced the following themes related to the respite program meeting caregiver and care recipient needs. 

Meeting caregivers needs. In post-intervention interviews all caregivers said the program provided some needed respite. Caregivers used their respite time to perform self-care activities, such as gardening, cleaning, relaxing or attending to work obligations. Some caregivers also highlighted the written materials provided by the program as providing needed information (e.g. “tips” or “insight”) on caregiving. Caregivers also explained their need for no-cost supportive services and appreciated that Houseguest did not require a fee. 

Meeting care recipient needs. In the pre-intervention interviews, caregivers described limited socialization opportunities for their care recipients. Post-intervention, caregivers said the program directly addressed this need and the care recipients were helped to “feel good about” themselves. Caregivers also liked the tailored activities that were provided based on their care recipient’s interests and abilities. Multiple caregivers indicated that the tailored activities promoted positive behavior, specifically calmness, of the care recipients. 

Study Limitations (as cited by authors): The authors note that the study’s key limitation is the small size and lack of diversity in the sample. 

Authors’ Discussion/Conclusions: Based on this study’s preliminary evidence of Houseguest’s positive impact, the authors recommend that future research involve multiple sites to determine under what community conditions Houseguest would be most effective and the university infrastructure that would be required to support and sustain the program. The authors propose a model for future research in dementia caregiving that is embedded in community-engaged scholarship that specifically involves community stakeholders and students to test and implement programming within community practice settings, and involves the staff at these settings in the program design.