Understanding Social Support Burden Among Family Caregivers

Elaine Wittenberg-Lyles*, Karla Washington, George Demiris, Debra Parker Oliver, Sara Shaunfield

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Despite the abundance of research on social support, both as a variable in larger studies and as a central focus of examination, there is little consensus about the relationship between social support and health outcomes. Current social support measures typically account only for frequency and size of network, and a paucity of research exists that has explained social support burden, defined as the burden associated with accessing and receiving support from others. We analyzed audio-recorded discussions by hospice family caregivers about their caregiving problems and potential solutions to examine social relationships within networks and identify the processes that influence social support seeking and receiving. Using qualitative thematic analysis, we found that caregivers providing hospice care experience social support burden resulting from perceived relational barriers between friends and family, the inclination to remain in control, recognition of the loss of the patient as a source of social support and guidance in decision making, family dynamics, and decreased availability of emotional support. Social support researchers should consider how the quality of communication and relationships within social networks impacts the provision and subsequent outcomes of social support in varying contexts. Findings from this study suggest that hospice social support resources should be tailored to the caregiver's support needs and include assessment on the type of support to be offered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)901-910
Number of pages10
JournalHealth communication
Issue number9
StatePublished - Oct 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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