Background: Caring for stroke survivors at home can have an enormous impact on informal carers and past research has tended to focus on the negative emotional consequences of caring, with few identifying any positive outcomes. Despite an awareness that the experiences of these carers change over time, there is a dearth of qualitative studies investigating carers’ experiences over time.
Objectives: To investigate the experiences of informal carers of stroke survivors over time.
Design: Qualitative study.
Setting: Carers of stroke survivors from one acute and two rehabilitation units in South-West London.
Participants: A purposive sample of 31 informal carers of stroke survivors discharged from inpatient treatment and rehabilitation returning home were interviewed. The majority of participants’ were spouses but they also included adult sons and daughters. Most participants were post-retirement age.
Methods: Audio-taped in-depth interviews of 30–90 min duration were undertaken at three time points—close to discharge, 1 month and 3 months post-discharge. Interviews were transcribed immediately after each interview. Analysis was an ongoing process starting during data collection and ending with themes. As themes emerged they were identified and discussed with other members of the team so that any patterns across the interviews were noted. Themes were followed up at subsequent interviews. This process enabled progressive focusing of ideas and also validated respondents’ accounts.
Results: There were a total of 81 interviews and these carers were similar demographically to other carers in stroke research. A central theme of uncertainty with a number of other interconnected themes were identified. Other themes including adopting routines and strategies, absolute and relative positives and questioning the future could be seen to both influence and be influenced by uncertainty. These themes can all be related to the changes in carers’ lives or the management of uncertainty around stroke. Differences in experiences and coping strategies were identified between new carers and those with prior caring experience.
Conclusions: Carers experience considerable uncertainty when caring for stroke survivors. Living with uncertainty is central to these carers’ experiences and this should be acknowledged by clinicians when supporting stroke survivors and carers. Encouraging the identification of the positive aspects of caring may help carers manage the challenges and uncertainties created by stroke.