Female Caregivers Report Greater Negative Health Impact, Less Support Than Males

Even in a society where an increasing number of men are taking on caregiver roles for family members in hospice, vast gender differences between female and male caregivers still persist today.

Even in a society where an increasing number of men are taking on caregiver roles for family members in hospice, vast gender differences between female and male caregivers still persist today, according to an exploratory study from the University of Missouri School of Medicine published in The Journal of Palliative Medicine. And contrary to popular belief, females were actually the ones who reported poorer caregiving experiences and outcomes.

The objective of this study was to determine if the experience of current day caregiving for end of life patients varies by gender. To do so, researchers interviewed randomly selected family caregivers in 1 of 2 hospices in the northwestern United States and analyzed their self-reported responses. Differences between the answers from female and male caregivers were then compared.

Results found that female caregivers reported lower self-esteem, less family support, and more negative impact on their schedules and health compared to men.

Lead author of the study, Karla Washington, PhD, hypothesized that this could be due to the perpetuation of social expectations that females are “supposed” to be caregivers, which leads to family members not feeling as obligated to offer them additional help.

“Taking care of sick family members is a responsibility often expected of women,” Dr Washington said in a statement. “If society views female caregivers as being naturally better at caregiving, other family members might be less likely to think the caregiver needs support, and thus less likely to offer it.”

Another explanation—also related to social norms—is that even if the males did experience lower self-esteem or negative impact, they would underreport their challenges.

This study could be an important step toward understanding the importance of caregiver wellbeing. Caregivers play such a vital role in patient health, but their needs often get neglected or overlooked while they care for their terminally ill acquaintances.

“As illnesses progress in loved ones, family caregivers become increasingly responsible for hands-on care, such as assisting with bathing and hygiene, as well as cooking, cleaning and managing bills,” Dr Washington said. “This extra load of responsibility can cause serious stress in a caretaker’s life.”

Caregiver stress is a common and serious problem that could be easily preventable. By analyzing aspects that were negatively reported in the caregiver responses, researchers can hone in on what needs to be done to ease this caregiver stress or burnout. Dr Washington said that interventions are needed to support caregivers and teach them ways to remember to take care of themselves as well, and ask for help in stressful situations.