The Impact of Caregiving on Women

The Impact of Caregiving on Women

Women routinely serve as caregivers for spouses, parents, in-laws and friends. In fact, an estimated 66% of all caregivers are female. The value of the informal care women provide has been estimated as high as $188 billion annually. While some men serve as caregivers, women spend approximately 50% more time caregiving than men.

When it comes to caring for a loved one with dementia, a recent study showed the out-of-pocket cost for the patient with dementia were the highest of any other disease, in large part due to the need for caregivers – the cost of which is not covered by Medicare.   In responding to the results of the study, Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, a geriatrician at the University of California in San Francisco stated, ‘It’s stunning that people who start out with the least end up with even less. It’s scary. And they haven’t even counted some of the costs, like the daughter who gave up time from work and is losing part of her retirement and her children’s college fund.”

The financial impact on women caregivers is quite substantial.  It reduces work hours by around 41%, and can result in a financial loss of over $324,000 based on lost wages and social security benefits.  And worse, a 2004 study conducted by Rice University found that women who are family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty, and 5 times more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The mental and physical effects of caregiving have also been well-documented.  Increased stress, anxiety and depression are common effects of caregiving. When caring for a spouse, women are nearly 6 times as likely to suffer depressive or anxious symptoms as non-caregiver spouses. Providing care to someone with dementia increases the levels of distress and depression higher than caring for someone without dementia.

Physical effects include higher blood pressure, increased risk of developing hypertension, less time spent on preventative care and a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease.

It is clear that women are at great risk when providing care to a loved one. Their financial stability is at risk, and they are at greater risk of developing mental and physical ailments. Are they at risk for negative long-term effects as well, including a higher death rate? Stay tuned – a new study titled, “The Long-Term Effects of Caregiving on Women’s Health and Mortality” will be published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in October, 2016, and ElderCounsel will post a follow-up article to help answer that question. (Credit: Valerie Peterson, J.D.)


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