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Characteristics of Family/Friend Care Networks of Frail Seniors

  • Janet Fast (a1), Norah Keating (a1), Pam Otfinowski (a1) and Linda Derksen (a1)


This paper tests assumptions often made by policy makers and practitioners that networks of family, friends, and neighbours are able to provide sustained care to frail elderly Canadians. Using national survey data, we examined characteristics of the care networks of 1,104 seniors living with a long-term health problem. Care networks were found to vary considerably in size, relationship composition, gender composition, age composition, and proximity, and these network characteristics were found to help explain variations in the types and amounts of care received. As a result, network characteristics that might place seniors at risk of receiving inadequate care (including small size and higher proportions of non-kin, male, and geographically distant members) were identified. These risk factors appear to be poorly reflected in most existing policy.

Ce mémoire explore certaines hypothèses souvent formulées par les décideurs et praticiens, à savoir que les réseaux informels, comme la famille, les amis et les voisins, peuvent fournir une aide soutenue aux Canadiens fragilisés âgés. À partir des données d'une enquête nationale, nous avons étudié les caractéristiques des réseaux de soins offerts à 1104 personnes âgées ayant une affection chronique. Nous avons constaté que les réseaux de soins différaient considérablement par la taille, la composition des relations, des sexes et de l'âge, et la proximité, et ces caractéristiques permettaient d'expliquer les variations entre le type et la quantité de soins reçus. Nous avons pu ainsi identifier certaines caractéristiques pouvant être préjudiciables aux personnes âgées parce qu'elles se traduisent par des soins inadéquats (p. ex., petits réseaux, forte proportion d'intervenants sans lien de parenté avec la personne âgée, forte proportion d'hommes, et éloignement géographique). Pourtant ces facteurs de risque ne semblent pas pris en compte dans les politiques actuelles.


Corresponding author

Dr. Janet Fast, 3–02 Human Ecology Building, Department of Human Ecology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2N1 (


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