“Doing things together” : Towards a health promoting approach to couples’ relationships and everyday life in dementia

Sammanfattning: Background: Most people with dementia live in their own homes, often together with their partners, who become informal caregivers. Relationship quality and sense of couplehood can be threatened as a result of the transition from a mutually interdependent relationship to a caregiver-care-receiver relationship. This, in turn, may lead to many negative consequences for both partners. Support provided for couples is often divided into different types for the person with dementia and for the partner without dementia and lacks couple-based support that targets the relationship, resources and the couple’s everyday life together. Aim: The overall aim of this thesis is to explore couple-centred interventions in dementia and to develop and test a salutogenic, resource-oriented and couple-based intervention among couples in which one partner has dementia living at home. Methods and findings: This thesis comprises three parts: The first part Exploring involves two linked reviews, one narrative review (study I A) and one scoping review (study I B) that aim to identify and describe what previous couple-centred interventions comprised and why they were conducted. The results of the reviews revealed a knowledge gap in and a need for easily accessible support that targets couple relationships, resources and everyday life. The second part Developing (study II) refers to the development of an easily accessible resource-oriented couple-management intervention. The first step was to identify priority topics for such an intervention through a co-researcher process with couples living with dementia. This included a comprehensive literature review, interviews with couples in which one partner has dementia, and consultation meetings with expert groups of people with dementia and partners in both Sweden and the UK. The co-researcher process and the expert meetings informed four main themes with corresponding sub-themes that couples with dementia considered as important to their wellbeing in their everyday lives: (1) Home and Neighbourhood, (2) Meaningful Activities and Relationships, (3) Approach and Empowerment, and (4) Couplehood. The themes were further developed and integrated into the multimedia application DemPower, which was developed for the delivery of the intervention. The third part Testing and Evaluating describes a feasibility study (study III) in which the DemPower application was tested for feasibility and acceptability among couples in Sweden and the UK. The results of the feasibility study indicated that the DemPower intervention was feasible and acceptable among couples in which one partner has dementia living at home. The testing and evaluating part also comprise a qualitative study (study IV) that explores the experiences of engaging with DemPower together as a couple living with dementia in Sweden. The findings resulted in the three themes: (1) Growth of the relationship, (2) We are not alone, and (3) Positive approach, which the couples appreciated and associated with the resource-oriented and salutogenic approach of DemPower. The overall findings of the thesis are presented in a concluding synthesis at the end of the thesis. The concluding synthesis, focused on “Meaningfulness”, “Empowering health promotion”, “Normalization” and “Transitions and couplehood”, represents the core findings of this thesis. What this thesis adds: This thesis contributes to research, healthcare and the public by highlighting the need for a salutogenic approach toward couples living with dementia. The DemPower application, with its focus on couples’ relationships, resource-orientation and everyday life, has proven feasibility and acceptability and has meaningfully addressed a gap in the literature and in practice. As researchers, healthcare professionals and the public, we need to support couples where one partner has dementia to continue to live as normal life as possible. This can best be achieved by focusing on what couples can do, by inclusion and by valuing them as the experts within dementia research and of their life experiences.

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