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The visiting spouses of extended care unit residents : an exploratory study of their experience Nunn, Kathleen Susan English


This study focussed on the non-institutionalized spouses of extended care unit (ECU) residents using the UBC Model for Nursing as the conceptual framework. The purpose was to elicit the visiting spouses' perceptions of the impact on their lives of having a spouse in an ECU, the coping behaviours they used, and the factors influencing or determining their coping behaviours. Data were collected through relatively unstructured interviews with nine visiting spouses. The three women and six men were married to disabled spouses who had lived in the ECU for an average of three years. Data analysis proceeded through the constant comparative method. Participants saw their spouses' institutionalization as part of a process of change beginning before the actual admission. The impact of having a spouse in an ECU was felt by participants as one of enduring loneliness and continuing preoccupation with their disabled spouses. Loneliness was interpreted to arise from the absence of intimacy in their lives and their preoccupation, from continuing caring for and attachment to their disabled spouses. The participants described a variety of coping behaviours and influencing factors. These were clustered around four aspects of their lives: the disabled spouse; painful emotions; the roles formerly performed by the disabled spouse; and social participation. Three core concepts emerged from the data. These were: perceiving mutuality in interactions with their disabled spouses; humanizing the institution; and integrating having a spouse in an ECU into the continuity of their lives. The last core concept had the greatest explanatory power. Nurses can facilitate the development of these three concepts by respecting the individuality of residents and visiting spouses and by ensuring that caring and competent nursing care is provided. Other implications for nursing practice and education as well as suggestions for further research are presented.

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