“I Just Learned by Observation and Trial and Error”: Exploration of Young Caregiver Training and Knowledge in Families Living with Rare Neurological Disorders

  • Melinda S. KavanaughEmail author
  • Chi C. Cho
  • Megan Howard
Original Paper



Caregiver skill training and support programs are traditionally offered to adult caregivers, leaving out the over 1 million children and youth who provide care (“young caregivers”). Skill building and support programs are critical to caregiver and patient well-being and can be informed by the knowledge of current caregiver skill and support acquisition.


Using data from three studies of neurological disorders, this paper provides initial data on how young caregivers acquire caregiver skills and training needed to inform young caregiver programs.


Mixed method data drawn from three studies of young caregivers in neurological disorders, Huntington’s disease (HD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


Youth (N = 96), ranged in age from 8 to 20, care for a family member with HD or ALS, and involved in tasks ranging from assistance with walking (76%), toileting (32%) and administering medications (37%). The majority (N = 59; 61%), received no training or guidance. When asked how they knew what to do, six main themes arose: (1) patient tells me what to do, (2) watching and observing, (3) common sense, (4) treating patient like child or self, (5) process of figuring it out, and (6) don’t know.


Young caregivers in neurological disorders engage in numerous caregiving tasks with little formal guidance, despite a desire for training and education by adults and professionals. Reliance on various skill methods and lack of formal guidance, points to the need for health care professionals to develop education and training programs targeting this isolated and underserved population, improving the well-being of both caregiver and care recipient.


Young carers Young caregivers ALS Huntington’s disease Family caregiving Caregiver training 



Funding was provided by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association and Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declares that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melinda S. Kavanaugh
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Chi C. Cho
    • 2
  • Megan Howard
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA
  2. 2.Center in Aging and Translational ResearchUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA

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