Objective: This study aimed to: (i) replicate previous findings that women experience more strain and distress than men when caring for dementing spouses; (ii) explore what factors underlie this sex difference.
Design: Two closely matched subsamples of spouse carers, husbands and wives respectively, were selected and the two groups compared.
Setting: An urban psychogeriatric service in the UK.
Subjects: 48 spouses of referred dementia cases.
Measures: Mental health was rated by the General Health Questionnaire, the Strain Scale and the Life Satisfaction Index. Various factors related to caregiving were assessed by the Problem Checklist, and a specially devised instrument to record caregiving task involvement, formal/informal support, objective burden, satisfaction with supports and attitudes to the relationship and to caregiving.
Results: The wives' levels of strain and morale were significantly worse than husbands'. There were qualitative differences between husbands and wives in terms of caregiving tasks undertaken. Wives tolerated dementia sufferers depending on them less well. Wives were also more likely to wish to leave caregiving to someone else and cited more reasons for giving up. Subjects of both sexes displayed a strong tendency to view women as generally better suited to the caregiving role, and wives felt a greater obligation to care.
Conclusions: It is concluded that such attitudinal or social factors are the chief determinants of wives' higher levels of strain and distress.