Doing informal care : Identity, couplehood, social health and information and communication technologies in older people’s everyday lives

Abstract: The aim of the thesis has been a) to analyse how informal care influences the identity of carers and care recipients, their sense of couplehood and social health, and b) to explore the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the context of informal care and the everyday lives of older people. Study I focused on how older carers conceptualised their identity as carers on a Swedish online social forum, using a netnographic methodology. The findings indicated a change in self-perception as the carer role was acquired. Carers’ capacities were filtered through the needs of the care recipient, making their carer identities into invisible selves. The findings revealed that online communication had the potential to create a virtual space of social recognition. Study II aimed to reflect on carers’ experiences of participation in a co-design process consisting of user group sessions with carers and researchers. The goal was to develop a web-based support programme for carers. The findings emphasised a need to consider carers’ lifeworlds and to develop flexible human-centred design methodologies, that are able to balance carers’ needs and ideas with proposed research outcomes. Studies III and IV utilised an ethnographic methodology. In study III, the notion of couplehood in informal care was analysed. The findings showed that in the process of becoming a carer and a care recipient previous (often gendered) responsibilities were re- negotiated and new practicalities emerged. Although these changes were understood as a natural part of family life, they nevertheless led to changes in the (power) balance between spouses, expressed in terms of a professionalised relationship and a sense of social isolation. ICT was used as a means to get a respite from caring and uphold a social connection with others. In study IV, the social implications and consequences of spousal informal care and carers and care recipients’ experiences of illness and the ill body was explored. The findings showed that the participants experienced barriers to living life as before. Thoughts about or the presence of ill and “leaking” bodies thus lead to “self-chosen” social isolation or social distancing by others. The thesis highlights that informal care needs to be understood as an identity forming practice, having a significant impact on involved parties’ sense of couplehood, their social health and that ICT can contribute to ease carers’ and care recipients’ daily life.

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