Perceived benefits from peer-support among family caregivers of people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and cognitive impairments in a palliative rehabilitation blended online learning programme

J Eval Clin Pract. 2023 Jun;29(4):602-613. doi: 10.1111/jep.13808. Epub 2023 Jan 26.


Rationale: Family caregivers of persons with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and cognitive and/or behavioural impairments (PALS/CIs) experience various challenges and needs, including emotional and practical support from peers. Various forms of peer-support have shown different strengths and weaknesses; however, little is known about how family caregivers of PALS/CIs interact with and perceive virtual face-to-face peer-support.

Aims and objectives: The aim of this study was to understand how caregivers of PALS/CIs interact with and perceive virtual face-to-face peer-support in a palliative rehabilitation programme designed to promote targeted palliative rehabilitation initiatives for caregivers of PALS/CIs.

Method: A qualitative design using participant observations of 17 recorded virtual group-facilitated meetings from two rounds of a 4-month intervention was performed. The Medical Research Council framework, the inductive interpretive description methodology and the theoretical framework of Sense of Coherence guided the study. Nineteen participants, divided into four groups, were included.

Results: Three themes emerged: 'Relating my situation to others', 'Making room for forbidden thoughts' and 'Longing for normalcy'. The themes reflected the various ways participants interacted in online group meetings and how the interactions evolved around practical, emotional and forbidden thoughts. Sharing personal and sorrowful concerns and frustrations engendered feelings of trust and a sense of belonging, which empowered the participants to address their genuine wish and longing for normalcy with all the trivialities of which ALS/CIs had robbed them.

Conclusion: Virtual face-to-face peer-support can enable caregivers of PALS/CIs to share experiences of everyday life challenges that cannot always be shared elsewhere. Being able to relate to and learn from other's experiences alleviated feelings of loneliness, frustration, and concerns and thereby enhanced comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness. Online palliative rehabilitation interventions should provide an opportunity for caregivers to meet regularly in interactive group meetings. Familiarization takes time online and is necessary to improve their sense of feeling safe to share their deepest thoughts. Such group interventions, facilitated by trained healthcare professionals, offer a means to support dynamic group interactions and discussion of sensitive topics.

Keywords: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; behavioural impairments; cognitive impairments; family caregivers; palliative rehabilitation; participant observation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / psychology
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction*
  • Counseling
  • Education, Distance*
  • Family / psychology
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research