Aim. This paper is a discussion of the use of unstructured diaries and their benefits and limitations as primary research data in a study of family caregivers of people with Alzheimer's disease.
Background. Caregivers’ diaries have rarely been used to study family caregivers’ subjective knowledge of life with a family member with Alzheimer's disease.
Method. Family caregivers wrote unstructured diaries for 2 weeks during the period 2002–2004, starting within 6 months after the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in a family member. The family caregivers (n = 83) were voluntary participants in an ongoing intervention study (patients n = 241 and caregivers n = 241). The diaries were analysed using content analysis.
Findings. The diary data were categorized into the following four different types: meagre, reporting, descriptive and reflective. They described the family caregivers’ experiential world and the changes taking place in it. Family caregivers found diary-writing a therapeutic and pleasant experience. The use of written diaries involves some limitations concerning high dependency on writers, and data solely in written form. An effort to confirm the quality of data should be made by personal contacts.
Conclusion. Diaries can be used as a primary method of data collection in nursing research, as they produce subjective knowledge of the experiences, emotions and meanings associated with caregiving. Their use can result in a high level of motivation, and ability to reflect on life promotes successful writing.