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Adjusting to long-term care

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By Caitlyn Spencer

Ana Petrovic-Poljak, with the help of a Vanier Scholarship, is studying how long-term care (LTC) facilities can improve the experience of military veterans and their family caregivers.

Petrovic-Poljak completed her BSc at the University of Toronto before coming to Calgary to do her graduate research under the supervision of Candace Konnert, associate professor in psychology. The strength of the clinical psychology program was a major draw. “The department is prolific in terms of published research and participation in notable conferences,” she says.

Petrovic-Poljak studied family caregivers of residents at Colonel Belcher, a LTC facility that cares for elderly veterans, for her Masters. She is now preparing for the defence of her doctoral research proposal and applying for ethics approval. Her research evaluates sense of community (SOC), a feeling of belonging, having influence, having needs met and having an emotional connection to individuals in a community, in family caregivers whose relatives are in LTC facilities. She is focusing on the differences in SOC between veteran and non-veteran families caring for their loved ones in LTC.

Petrovic-Poljak notes that while relocating a family member to LTC from the community changes the strains of family caregiving, it by no means eliminates it. “Families are very involved with their loved ones in LTC,” she says. “I have found that on average they spend 10 hours per week at the facility with their loved one, and some spend up to 70 hours per week there.”

The ways in which family caregivers assist ranges from emotional support to the provision of physical care, and can go so far as advocacy on behalf of residents who can no longer serve as their own advocates.

“The preliminary findings from my Masters research show that family members who have a higher SOC have greater satisfaction with care, better family adjustment to LTC, greater number of positive interactions with others in the nursing home, perceive better communication with staff, and perceive staff as more supportive,” says Petrovic-Poljak.

Finding out how the experiences of veteran and non-veteran families differ could be crucial in LTC policies as Canada’s population continues to age. “There might be unique factors in military families that could create additional stressors,” Petrovic-Poljak explains. “Unlike most non-veterans, family caregivers of elderly veterans have been caring for their loved ones for a longer period of time due to physical and mental disabilities incurred by the veteran’s military experience.”

Find out more about the Vanier Scholarship. Contact Petrovic-Poljak about her research at

Photo by Damir Poljak.