Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Elderly Husbands Caring at Home for Wives Diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease: Are Male Caregivers Really Different?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Elderly Husbands Caring at Home for Wives Diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease: Are Male Caregivers Really Different?

Article excerpt

Introduction

There has been a myriad of published research on female caregiving (Ungerson, 1987; Lewis & Meredith, 1988; Brody, 1990; Aronson, 1991; Opie, 1992; Finch & Mason, 1993; Leira, 1994; Cahill, 1997). Although work on men in principal care roles is beginning to emerge, it is argued that male carers are still a neglected population sub-group (Siriopoulos, Brown & Wright, 1999). In Australia, only one study of Sydney-based male caregivers appears in the literature (Brown, 1996) despite evidence showing that there are many male caregivers in the over 60 year age group (ABS, 1993). Given increased longevity and statistics showing an increase in sex ratio with a slight decrease in life expectancy between males and females (Borowski & Hugo, 1997), the issue of older persons caring for older spouses, including husbands caring for cognitively impaired wives will become increasingly important. To plan effective services there is a need to understand more about the world of male caregivers and to learn more from men themselves about the social, economic and emotional resources required by them when performing the principal care role. The social issue of ageing and the management of women with dementia by their older frail husbands will require critical attention.

The research described here is a first attempt, in Queensland, to broaden the debate on male caregivers of spouses with dementia and to explore the complexities of their worlds. The aim of the study is to develop an understanding of the caregiving experiences of men looking after spouses diagnosed with dementia and in so doing highlight (i) their motivation to care, (ii) the caring tasks undertaken, (iii) the formal and informal support services received, and (iv) their attitudes to caring including satisfaction with the principal care role. Where feasible results will be compared with a recent study of female caregivers already reported in the literature (Cahill & Shapiro, 1998).

Literature Review

In Australia, there exists no systematic body of literature on the topic of male caregivers (Brown, 1996), a finding probably best explained by the fact that the main bulk of principal caregivers in Australia are women (Schofield, Herrman, Bloch, Howe & Singh, 1997) and caregiving research has traditionally been a women's issue (Rosenman, Tilse, Le Brocque & Grasso, 1993) undertaken predominantly by women about women (Paul, 1999; Cahill, 1999; Cahill, 1997). In the United States, an emerging body of literature has led to a description of men in caring roles as `misunderstood caregivers' (Harris, 1993). Harris argues for the need for more exploratory research on male caregivers. Drawing on the literature, he demonstrates emerging contradictory findings about male caregivers, with some studies arguing that men feel closer to their wives after caring and experience improved relationships, while others show how for men, caregiving deminishes the companionship/confidant dimension of the relationship and increases tension. Harris points to methodological problems arising from inappropriate research designs being used in male caregiver reseearch and suggests that these contradictions illustrate the need for more in depth exploratory research to gain a better understanding of men's caregiver worlds (Harris, 1993).

In the United Kingdom, male carers have also been discovered (Fisher, 1994). A primary focus has been on comparing the respective experiences of men and women and noting the differences (Miller, 1987; Ungerson, 1987). Although some controversy exists regarding the nature and extent of these differences, a consistent finding is that men's approach to caregiving differs from that used by women (Kaye & Applegate, 1990).

Men tend to use a problem-solving approach to caregiving -- an approach which may be carried over from their work roles (Harris, 1993) and which may enable them to set limits to caring activities, thereby protecting themselves from the burden, depression and guilt often experienced by women (Kaye & Applegate, 1990). …

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