Date of Award

Spring 2019

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Sharyn Potter

Second Advisor

Michele Dillon

Third Advisor

Rebecca Glauber


According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, an informal or family caregiver is “an unpaid individual . . . involved in assisting others with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks.” As informal caregiving in the United States has increased, research on the topic has been published in a myriad of disciplines (e.g., sociology, nursing, social work, and medicine). The literature has defined informal caregivers (ICGs), described their role and its impacts, detailed the costs and benefits of informal caregiving, and evaluated interventions to assist ICGs. Scholars have also investigated more natural, less experimental use of informational and support resources for ICGs than, for example, interventions via informational websites or support groups, but they have not thoroughly explored their effects.

This study used semistructured interviews with ICGs catering to care recipients (CRs) with various conditions and characteristics (e.g., ages) to explore ICGs’ authentic use of caregiving-related resources for providing care and for coping with the often complex and fluctuating demands of their role. Using a theoretical sample of 25 ICGs, this grounded theory study yielded a number of findings. Study participants’ comments revealed that they conceived of informal caregiving as more akin to a volunteer job than to a career. Because the study sample contained primary, secondary, and other nonprimary caregivers, I observed that the participant’s position in the caregiving project team, in conjunction with overall team functioning, influenced their caregiving experience. The proportion of helpful resources relative to unhelpful resources, however, was not related to whether or not ICGs identified positive aspects of the job. The quality of relationships with other members of the formal and informal caregiving team proved to have more influence on whether or not ICGs identified any positive aspects of the job. In addition, the Internet proved to be a largely beneficial caregiving tool for those who used it. Although the Internet was most often used to seek information, it helped ICGs cope by enabling them to build personal coping resources and by offering social support by connecting users to similar others. These findings suggest the need for early identification of prospective caregiving team members to (1) optimize the calibration of caregiver abilities and (2) establish a division of labor to diminish the caregiving workload while building greater appreciation among team members for the contributions and capacities of the others.

EJablonskiDissertationExecutiveSummary.pdf (57 kB)
Executive Summary