Caregiving in the COVID-19 pandemic: Family adaptations following an intensive care unit hospitalisation

J Clin Nurs. 2024 Jan;33(1):203-214. doi: 10.1111/jocn.16560. Epub 2022 Oct 19.


Aim and objective: To identify how family caregivers adapt to the caregiving role following a relative's COVID-19-related intensive care unit (ICU) hospitalisation.

Background: Family caregiving is often associated with poor health amongst caregivers which may limit their capacity to effectively support patients. Though severe COVID-19 infection has necessitated increasing numbers of persons who require caregiver support, little is known about these caregivers, the persons they are caring for, or the strategies used to effectively adjust to the caregiving role.

Design: A qualitative descriptive study design was adopted, and findings are reported using COREQ.

Methods: A secondary analysis of transcripts from semi-structured interviews conducted with recently discharged ICU patients who had COVID-19 (n = 16) and their family caregivers (n = 16) was completed using thematic analysis. MAXQDA 2020 and Miro were used to organise data and complete coding. Analysis involved a structured process of open and closed coding to identify and confirm themes that elucidated adaptation to family caregiving.

Results: Six themes highlight how family caregivers adapt to the caregiving role following an ICU COVID-19-related hospitalisation including (1) engaging the support of family and friends, (2) increased responsibilities to accommodate caregiving, (3) managing emotions, (4) managing infection control, (5) addressing patient independence and (6) engaging support services. These themes were found to be congruent with the Roy adaptation model.

Conclusions: Family caregiving is a stressful transition following a patient's acute hospitalisation. Effective adaptation requires flexibility and sufficient support, beginning with the care team who can adequately prepare the family for the anticipated challenges of recovery.

Relevance to clinical practice: Clinical teams may improve post-hospitalisation care outcomes of patients by preparing families to effectively adjust to the caregiver role-particularly in identifying sufficient support resources.

Patient or public contribution: Participation of patients/caregivers in this study was limited to the data provided through participant interviews.

Keywords: caregiver; coronavirus; family; follow-up studies; inpatients; psychological adaptation; qualitative research.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Family* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Pandemics
  • Patient Discharge
  • Qualitative Research