Honours study aims to help stressed carers

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Honours study aims to help stressed carers

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Published on 18 February 2014

The enormous challenges facing people who care for loved ones with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) across Queensland have been revealed in new University of the Sunshine Coast research.

Bryony Kitter, 26, of Buderim, recently completed her Psychology Honours research into the experiences, support needs, quality of life and coping strategies of carers of people with ABI.

“ABI refers to any brain damage that happens after birth,” Ms Kitter said. “The cause is often sudden and abrupt, such as a stroke or a car accident, and the care of that person often falls to a parent or spouse.

“This can transform a family’s life. The amount of stress that carers are under is tremendous and there’s an alarming inconsistency of services to help them.”

Her qualitative study involved interviews with 20 families from areas including Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Roma, Innisfail, Gladstone, Rockhampton and Cairns, as well as focus group discussions with a local disability support agency.

“Two findings were of particular interest,” said Ms Kitter, whose research was supervised by USC Lecturer in Psychology Dr Rachael Sharman.

“There was a distinct service gap in providing skills and assistance to carers of people who displayed, at times, disturbing and violent behaviours.

“There was also a strong association between the severity of a brain injury and the carer’s desire for professional health intervention after the injured person had left hospital. The more severe the injury, the more professional health assistance was sought for ongoing decision-making.”

Ms Kitter, who worked as a flight attendant after moving to Australia from Zimbabwe eight years ago, will this year study a Master of International Public Health externally at the University of Queensland.

“I’d always wanted to study Psychology and I had a wonderful four years at USC,” she said. “My career goal is to improve people’s health on a global scale.”

Ms Kitter’s study made a number of recommendations, both short and long-term, with the potential to immediately help carers as well as inform upcoming changes involving the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Her thesis won an Australian Psychological Society Prize, which included an invitation to present her results at the next APS conference and membership of the organisation.

Dr Sharman said Ms Kitter’s work was outstanding.

“She demonstrated an extraordinary degree of dedication and professionalism in working with carers,” Dr Sharman said.

Julie Schomberg

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