Understanding family workload and capacity following catastrophic injury

About the Project

Chief Investigator/s: A/Prof. Carolyn Ehrlich; Ms Elizabeth McNevin; Dr Annerley Bates; Dr Michelle McIntyre; A/Prof Grahame Simpson

Catastrophic injury is disruptive. It creates biographical, geographical and social disruption and displaces both people who are injured and their families immediately and irrevocably. This disruption and displacement creates an unanticipated workload for individuals and their family-based relational networks. New and unfamiliar work is distributed and allocated amongst family networks that are heterogeneous and complex. Additionally, the capacity of these networks to undertake the work associated with responding to an unfamiliar space created by injury will impact long-term outcomes for this population. In a space where life opportunities have been displaced, understanding entire family networks as well as the relationships between the work that family networks are required to perform and the capacity of these networks to undertake the allocated work is an important but previously unexplored area of research. Therefore, this study will explore the way that work is distributed and allocated within family-based relational networks and factors that impact the capacity of these networks to perform the work.

This study aims to use mixed methods to explore how:

1) Catastrophic injury impacts entire family networks?

2) The  work  associated with living after catastrophic injury is allocated to, and distributed between, members of family networks?

This study is significant, because although there has been sustained research investigating the impact of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or spinal cord injury (SCI) on family members over the past three decades only a handful of studies have examined the psychological impact of injury on up to three other family members. No studies have sought to explore how entire family-based relational networks organise and perform care giving work in response to catastrophic injury. This work is also significant because it will expand recent theories about the accumulation of complexity burden of treatment, and existing theories of biographical disruption beyond a chronic disease focus into the realm of catastrophic injury.

The  expected outcomes of  this work  are:  (1)  expansion of  contemporary theory;  (2)  develop new understanding about work distribution within family networks after catastrophic injury, which will make an important contribution to rehabilitation models of care; (3) provide a platform to explore and test different models of interaction between families and rehabilitation clinicians; and (4) explore how data about networks could potentially be operationalised, with the view to applying methods such as social network analysis of a wider scale.

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