Where caregivers grocery shop matters

Caring for someone with dementia can create small changes in how you experience your neighbourhood. Together, they can add up big changes in your quality of life.

Perhaps you stop going to your local grocery store because you sense your spouse or parent is stigmatized there. Or maybe you forgo trips to your favourite hairdresser because they aren't conveniently located and you can't afford the time away.

MarjorieSilvermanSuch seemingly subtle changes in the way caregivers use their community's public and semi-public spaces can impact their social connections. University of Ottawa social gerontologist Marjorie Silverman wants to know exactly how those connections are affected and how it changes caregivers' quality of life.

"Does their world shrink with changed habits?" she asks. "There is so much emphasis on care in the home, and it has its benefits, but one of the difficult pieces is that a lot of burden falls on the caregiver."

Only a handful of studies have attempted to understand how caregivers interact with their neighbourhoods, and most of that research is based in Europe. Silverman's three-year study, jointly funded by the Alzheimer Society Research Program and Fasken Martineau, will be the first to tackle this issue in Canada.

Her findings will be linked with a larger study in Scotland, England and Sweden. The goal is to eventually come up with what she calls "an intervention toolkit" that suggests creative possibilities for widening caregivers' social connections through their use of neighbourhood space.

Silverman is in the midst of recruiting 15 participants in the Ottawa area. The group will be split evenly into urban, suburban and semi-rural areas. She will then use three different methods to better understand how caregivers use the space around them.

Silverman will begin by building a "social network map" based on who the caregiver interacts with in a typical week, those people's relative importance in the caregiver's life, and whether they speak with them on the phone, or how far they must travel to see them.

She will also conduct walking or driving interviews with caregivers, asking them to take her on a tour of the important places for them in their communities. "They choose the length of travel and destination. And we talk about why here, what is important about this location," says Silverman. "Are these places they visit with or without the person they are caring for? That's revealing too."

She will also give each caregiver a camera and ask them to take photos of the places they visit. Silverman will then look at the images with them and ask them to talk about why those locations are significant.

"Our ultimate goal is to develop guidelines for meaningful use of space for caregivers that maintains a sense of still having a life beyond their care giving role," says Silverman.

Do you want better care for people with dementia and to help find a cure? The Alzheimer Society Research Program seeks to fund the most promising research. Whatever you donate today will help us reach our goal faster.

Last Updated: 11/08/2017