Dr Siobhan O’Dwyer, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow will soon start the recruitment process for 1500 carers across Queensland, NSW and the ACT who will be surveyed during the next 12 months.
Dr O’Dwyer’s work will be supported by the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre for Carers and Consumers.
The unique research will also investigate resilience to determine what separates carers who contemplate or attempt suicide from those who adapt to or bounce back from the physical and psychological hardship of caring for a person with dementia.
How risk and resilience vary during the care-giving process, from the beginning to care stage, to relinquishing care to an institution, to the bereavement stage will also be analysed.
“For some carers this intense and demanding work leads to poor physical and mental health,” Dr O’Dwyer said.
“Carers are known to experience higher than normal rates of depression, hopelessness and poor physical health – all of which are risk factors for suicide.
“The findings will provide an important first look at suicidality in this population, and will form the basis for the future development of programs to support at-risk carers.”
The project is a collaboration between the Griffith Health Institute’s Research Centre for Clinical and Community Practice Innovation (RCCCPI) and the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP), also based at Griffith University.
Dr O’Dwyer will work closely with Professor Diego De Leo, the Director of AISRAP and Australia’s leading suicide researcher, and will be based at RCCCPI under the mentorship of Professor Wendy Moyle.
She will also draw on the extensive resources of the Dementia Collaborative Research Centres (DCRCs) at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales.
The DCRC: Carers and Consumers at QUT has awarded Dr O’Dwyer a two-and-a-half year post-doctoral fellowship to conduct the research.
The research is the first to investigate if carers of Australia’s 250,000 people with dementia contemplate or even attempt suicide as a result of their caring role.
“For those who contemplate suicide, the experience is distressing and isolating, and can be the result of psychological, personal and/or situational hardship.”
In Australia, almost one in four carers of people with dementia provide 40 hours of care or more per week.
Of these, 71 per cent maintain this level of care for more than a year, with one third of these carers continuing at this level for five years or more.
Dr O’Dwyer says research suggests the uptake of support services by carers of people with dementia is low, with stigma and lack of information significant barriers.
Limited related research to date has found that up to 50 per cent of homicide-suicides committed by older adults are committed by spousal carers, with about 20 per cent of these caring for a spouse with dementia.
“By focusing on resilience this project seeks to go beyond burden of care and focus on supporting carers and fostering their ability to cope with adversity across transitions in care-giving.”