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Study: Reaching Out to Older Husband-Caregivers


How do older husbands cope as caregivers?

It’s a question rarely asked even though 40 to 44 per cent of primary caregivers are men, according to Canadian and American statistics. And the vast majority of these are elderly spouses.

However, things are changing. A recent study, led by Francine Ducharme of the Université de Montréal, interviewed 232 older French-speaking husband caregivers. Participants were recruited from various health and community agencies in four urban areas of Quebec. The husbands were primary caregivers and had lived with a functionally or cognitively impaired wife for an average of seven years.

Over two-thirds of husbands reported high levels of psychological distress, according to researchers. A slightly lower proportion of husbands reported negative outcomes for self-perceived health.

The findings appeared in The International Journal of Aging and Human Development Vol. 65, (1), 2007.

Psychological distress

According to researchers, spouses responded to the demands of caregiving in different ways, over a one-year period. Factors predicting positive or negative outcomes included: increased role overload, caregiver years of education, level of informal support from the family and self-efficacy over time.

According to researchers, an increase in role overload resulted in greater psychological distress. Better-educated husbands were more likely to fare poorly. Perhaps husbands with more years of schooling were more aware of the long-term consequences of their wives’ state of health. Greater informal support from the family also resulted in poorer psychological outcomes. According to researchers, it is likely family members provided increased support in response to the ill person’s declining health and the caregiver’s growing level of distress.

Changes in self-perceived health

Participants were asked how they regarded their health at the time of the first interview, and again, a year later. The researchers found husbands high in self-efficacy – those who believed they could deal successfully with the demands of care giving – scored positive outcomes for self-perceived health despite the ongoing challenges of caregiving.

Outreach programs

The findings suggest caregiving by older husbands can exact a psychological toll that may go unrecognized. The researchers recommend outreach programs to support this vulnerable group – specifically programs for men focusing on the needs of individual caregivers.