Transition experiences of community spouses who volunteer in their mates' nursing homes

Date of Completion

January 2002


Psychology, Social|Psychology, Developmental




Community spouses who have admitted their mates into nursing homes commonly experience disrupted marital and social relationships, fear, anger, and guilt. Some choose to volunteer in the homes where their mates reside. This project is an exploratory, interpretivistic, qualitative study of community spouses' experiences who participate in volunteering in their mates' homes. It explores volunteering spouses' feelings about their volunteering activities, their relationships with their mates and with others in the nursing home, and examines feelings of stress, acceptance, and redirection of routines. ^ This study employed a case study design and methods of grounded theory analysis. Sixteen community spouses (nine husbands and seven wives) were interviewed on two separate occasions in their mates' nursing homes. The interviews followed a semi-structured format and were transcribed verbatim. Data were examined for themes and meaningful comparisons within and across categories, and compared with related literature. ^ Results indicate that volunteering was a coping activity used by these spouses as they adjusted to and maintained a new routine. It provided community spouses opportunities for engagement in several coping strategies, including social interaction and engagement in meaningful occupations; activities these spouses used to facilitate their admission transition experiences. ^ Some spouses used volunteering to enact mate connecting and mate caregiving goals, but this was not universal. In fact, volunteering emerged as an activity that had potential to be perceived as facilitating or challenging to the marital relationship. Helping residents and/or keeping them company was a meaningful and universal experience among these spouses; residents were a strong draw encouraging spousal participation in the activity of volunteering. The majority of these spouses came with a propensity to volunteer and/or a history of volunteering. ^ This study provides valuable information for nursing home personnel (administration, activity directors, social workers, and occupational therapists) who have potential to facilitate volunteering opportunities for community spouses. In the form of theoretical propositions, it also provides valuable information for further theory development concerning volunteering in mates' nursing homes, and more generally, about community spouses' marital relationship feelings and transition and coping experiences. ^