Being a caregiver for a chronically ill family member can negatively impact your physical, biological and mental health, but if you are also in a strained marriage, these negative health effects may feel intensified, according to a new study at South Dakota State University.
As part of a research project for the National Institute on Aging, assistant professor Dr. Sun Woo Kanganalyzed the self-reported health of married, adult caregivers from the National Survey of Midlife in the United States. Her goal was to see whether marriage quality could affect the stress of caring for a sick family member.
The researchers studied the data of 1,080 married adults, aged 33 to 83, and compared responses from those who were providing care for their parents with those who were not. Results showed that caregivers who experienced a high amount of marital strain rated themselves as significantly less healthy than those who had lower marital strain, according to Kang.
“Higher levels of marital strain among family caregivers exacerbate the negative health impact,” she said. “In contrast, less strain from the spouse buffered this effect.”
Among caregivers of parents, those who experienced high strain from their spouse reported more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis and high blood pressure, than noncaregivers with high strain from spouses, Kang explained. Results were the same for men and women.
When it came to caring for a child with a chronic illness or disability, however, there was a gender difference. Though father caregivers reported more chronic conditions, marital strain did not make a difference, said Kang. “It neither exacerbated nor buffered the impact of caregiving.”
“Mothers were more influenced by marital quality than fathers,” Kang said. In other words, a supportive husband can ease the stress of caregiving and even improve a woman’s ability to cope with the strain of caring for a chronically ill child.
Kang noted that neither study took into account the amount of time a married adult had been giving care or the seriousness of the family member’s disabilities. Consequently, she said, “we must be cautious about implications and suggestions.”
“Caregiving is a health risk for all married caregivers. My studies provide evidence for the critical importance of programs and policies to support caregivers to protect their own health, particularly as more adults become caregivers,” Kang said.
“Husbands, in particular, can help buffer the health risks for their spouses and reduce the burden of caregiving.”
Source: South Dakota State University