Academic journal article Family Relations

Negative and Positive Caregiving Experiences: A Closer Look at the Intersection of Gender and Relationship

Academic journal article Family Relations

Negative and Positive Caregiving Experiences: A Closer Look at the Intersection of Gender and Relationship

Article excerpt

Using data from the 2004 wave of the National Long-Term Care Survey, we examined how negative and positive caregiving experiences differ by caregivers' gender and relationship to care recipients. We further considered how their caregiving experiences are affected by caregivers' demographic characteristics, care recipients ' problem behavior and dependency, caregivers' involvement, reciprocal help from care recipients, and social support available for caregivers. We found that female and adult-child caregivers, in general, reported having had more negative experiences than male and spouse caregivers, respectively. Wife caregivers were least likely to report positive experiences. We also found different risk factors for negative and positive caregiving experiences, and these factors varied depending on caregivers' gender and relationship to the care recipient. The findings underscore the heterogeneity of caregiving experiences. To sustain informal care, state and local agencies need to tailor services to wife, husband, daughter, and son caregivers ' unique needs.

Key Words: burnout, family caregivers, interference, personal gratification, strain.

Family caregivers play a central role in caring for frail older adults. It is estimated that 36 million adults provide unpaid care to a family member who is age 65 or older (National Alliance for Caregiving, 2009). Nearly 80% of these family caregivers are spouses or adult children (Wolff & Kasper, 2006). Family caregivers, on average, provide more than 20 hours of care per week to older adults with limitations in daily activities (Johnson & Wiener, 2006). The estimated economic value of the care provided by family caregivers is approximately $450 billion a year, which exceeds total Medicaid spending and approaches 90% of the entire expenditure on Medicare (Feinberg, Reinhard, Houser, & Choula, 2011). As 76 million baby boomers gradually enter late life, most will eventually develop some form of functional limitation and rely on their spouses or adult children for care (Mantón, Gu, & Lamb, 2006). Sustaining family caregivers' capacity to help maintain older adults' daily functioning, therefore, becomes an important policy issue.

Researchers have extensively examined risk factors associated with caregiving and have suggested ways to enhance caregivers' well-being (Pinquart & Sörensen, 2003). Two issues, however, have not yet been adequately addressed. First, most prior studies have focused on caregivers' negative experiences and overlooked the positive experiences associated with caregiving (Walker, Pratt, & Eddy, 1995), probably on the basis of the assumption that by reducing negative experiences, caregivers can continue providing care. This line of thought ignores the fact that caregiving also brings about positive experiences, which may propel caregivers to continue their support. Caregivers may receive personal gratification when they feel useful by caring for frail older adults (Raschick & Ingersoll-Dayton, 2004), or they may view caregiving as a way to pay back for the help they received from the care recipients in the past (Henretta, Hill, Li, Soldo, & Wolf, 1997). Moreover, family members are expected to take care of each other. Providing care to family members confirms social norms and generates social approval (Lee, Netzer, & Coward, 1994). Because the decision to stay in the caregiver role is likely to be affected by negative as well as positive caregiving experiences, it is imperative to examine risk factors related to both types of experiences simultaneously.

The second issue is that previous research has not yet carefully examined whether risk factors associated with caregiving experiences vary by caregivers' gender and their relationship to care recipients. When older adults need help, their spouses usually are the first to provide care. Adult children generally step in when spouses are not available. In either type of relationship, women are more likely than men to be caregivers. …

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