Women as caregivers and the physical and emotional price

A Princeton University study analysed family networks of 26,000 Americans and found that men do as little as they can get away with. If they have sisters? They’ll happily let them do it. So their female siblings end up having to overcompensate for the boys.

Leslie Francis, an education professor at Warwick University, is an expert on gender differences. He says that it goes back to the nature versus nature debate. “There are two kinds of theories,” he explains. “One is set in a sociological context, which would talk about the different ways in which men and women are nurtured. I don’t believe that.”

Instead, he thinks it comes down to nature: “basic personality differences”. He says that masculine personality traits include being more critical and analytical. While feminine ones lean towards showing more sympathy and feeling. You’re also more likely to be a caregiver.

Most older people with long-term care needs rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance. Some will supplement family care with assistance from paid providers. Care provided by family and friends can determine whether older persons can remain at home.

Within the complex system of long-term care, women’s care-giving is essential in providing a backbone of support. In fact, the value of the informal care that women provide ranges has  been valued [In America] at between $148 billion to $188 billion annually.

Women provide the majority of informal care to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends and neighbors, and they play many roles while care-giving—hands-on health provider, care manager, friend, companion, surrogate decision-maker and advocate.

The toll that care-giving takes is not just financial. Higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges are common among women who care for an older relative or friend. Studies find that men respond to care-giving responsibilities in a fundamentally different way. Women tend to stay home to provide time-consuming care to one or more ill or disabled friends or family members, while men respond to loved one’s needs for support by delaying retirement, in part to shoulder the financial burden associated with long-term care. The impact of the women’s intensive care-giving can be substantial.

One four-year study found that middle-aged and older women who provided care for an ill or disabled spouse were almost six times as likely to suffer depressive or anxious symptoms as were those who had no care-giving responsibilities. It’s not only care for a spouse that can affect mental health, however. The same study found that women who cared for ill parents were twice as likely to suffer from depressive or anxious symptoms as non-caregivers.

Compounding this picture, physical ailments are not uncommon. Researchers found that more than one-third of caregivers provide intense and continuing care to others while suffering from poor health themselves. Elderly women caring for a loved one who has dementia may be particularly susceptible to the negative health effects of care-giving because they receive significantly less help from family members for their own disabilities. To highlight this, a 2003 study found that over one in four of female caregivers reported fair to poor health compared to 12% of women generally.

Because of the multi-faceted role that family and informal caregivers play, they need a range of support services to remain healthy, improve their care-giving skills and remain in their care-giving role. Caregiver support could include information, assistance, counselling, rest and home modifications and devices.

Here at PCA, whilst we are committed to providing world-class healthcare from our own practitioners, we are also in the privileged position to be able to help caregivers fulfill their roles without compromising their person physical and mental health. We provide home care assistance and training for those who are looking after loved ones, we also supply high-quality equipment through our PCA store that will make caregiving a lot easier including modified beds, stair lifts and ramps.

This Women’s Month, we want to help support the women that have been supporting other their whole lives. PCA is here for you. To know more, call us on 0813 028 0496!

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