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The carer/key worker relationship cycle: a theory of the reciprocal process


G. McGhee
University of the West of Scotland
School of Health, Nursing & Midwifery
Caird Building
Caird Street
Hamilton ML3 OJB


Accessible summary

  • • The significant role of the family care giver supporting a loved one experiencing dementia is becoming increasingly recognized by modern health care service providers. However, very little research activity has been directed towards studying how such important care providers develop meaningful and healthy relationships with the paid professionals supporting them in this important role.
  • • This grounded theory study has strived to examine this important relationship in some detail with a clear intention of creating a theoretical explanation (model) that will more explicitly explain how this relationship might be developed and strengthened for the benefit of both the care recipient and their family care provider.
  • • The findings from the study demonstrate how this relationship may be initiated managed and strengthened. How, under certain circumstances, this relationship may be enhanced or alternatively restricted; and how either trajectory may impact upon both the relationship between carer and key worker and consequently how the quality of this relationship may impact upon the care environment itself.
  • • The substantive theory derived from this research has important implication for both health care professionals working within the field of dementia care as well as for those individuals are providing care and support to a close relative or friend living with dementia, especially at the early stage of their caring experience. Additionally this study's findings have important implications for not only those providing care, but also for health care management, researchers and those providing training and education at all levels within this sector.


This study focused on the relationship that develops between professional key workers and dementia carers operating within the home environment. Some research has been directed towards those caring for a relative/friend with dementia and how their role might be made less burdensome; however, the relationship that exists and develops between a carer and their key professional is limited. The aim of this study was to examine this relationship in greater detail and generate a theoretical explanation of this psychosocial process. The grounded theory methodology has particular applicability for this aim. Carer/key worker dyads within Lanarkshire were interviewed in tandem and all interviews recorded. The transcripts were then analysed and initial data categories identified progressing through to the final core category that explained all subordinate data. This study provided a clearer insight into the interpersonal processes associated with this relationship and how it may more effectively be initiated, managed and strengthened. It created the potential to produce a more positive care outcome forthe person with dementia. It also has implications for future research into similar aspects of care giving, particularly for health care education and management, as well as carer advisory services.