The Gendered Health Effect of Intimate Task Performance on Spousal Caregivers
Leahy, Callen Maeve
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Caregiving research on heterosexual couples suggests that though husbands and wives generally perform the same care tasks for their spouses, wives report higher levels of mental stress, depression, and general frustration (Swinkles et al., 2017; Polenick and DePasquale 2019). Caregiving literature is unclear on why a gender difference exists regarding stress or burden when husbands and wives are largely performing the same tasks. Using gender relations theory, this study considers whether the performance of intimate tasks creates different levels of emotional stress and overall health outcomes for older, heterosexual husbands and wives caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's or related dementias. Intimate tasks (ITs) refer to tasks that likely infringe on the bodily autonomy of the care receiver and include dealing with incontinence and assisting with bathing/showering. To explore this, I conducted logistic regressions using the 2015 and 2020 "Caregiving in the U.S.'' surveys from the AARP. My results showed IT performance has a negative effect on the stress and overall health of both husbands and wives, but comparatively, there is no consistent gender difference in effect. Additional analysis found that when separating the Its, dealing with incontinence had a more negative effect on emotional stress while assisting with bathing/showering had a more negative effect on health outcomes.
General Audience Abstract
Older spousal caregivers are responsible for completing many different tasks to properly care for their spouse. Husbands and wives typically approach completing these tasks in different ways. Husbands tend to focus strictly on completing the care tasks, while wives tend to additionally factor in their husband's emotions. Care tasks can include things such as managing medications, taking over household chores, or more intimate tasks like dealing with urinary and bowel movements or assisting with bathing. This study considers whether there is a gender difference in the effect of intimate task performance between older caregivers that care for a spouse with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. My findings show that completing these intimate tasks negatively affects husbands' and wives' emotional stress levels and overall health. When separating the two intimate tasks, dealing with urinary and bowel movements was more likely to affect levels of emotional stress. Alternatively, assisting with bathing or showering was more likely to affect overall health.
- Masters Theses