Study Suggests Sources of Depression for Female Caregivers

A study done at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor indicates that negative relations with stepchildren can compound the burdens a wife feels while caring for her husband suffering from forms of dementia.
Lead author of the study, Carey Wexler Sherman, said, “We learned from women in the study that those with higher levels of care-related disagreements with stepfamily members felt a significantly greater burden and feelings of depression related to care.”  She and the co-authors acknowledge that the study was small.  In order to hone the study’s results, the authors suggest participants be followed for a longer time and be representative of the population’s diversity.

Divorce rates have doubled since 1990; more than 15 million Americans are caregivers for people with dementia.  The study indicates that the effect of these statistics has yielded feelings of depression in caregivers.
Sherman and her colleagues focused on 61 remarried wife caregivers from across the country.  The women had been re-married after their child-rearing years.  The participants completed questionnaires about their social networks, levels of depression, and caregiver burdens between the years 2008-2010.
The three categories of networks were “social network,” “positive network,” or “negative network.”  At 35 percent, stepchildren comprised the largest proportion of what the wives considered a “negative network” related to their caretaking.  The researchers found that levels of family disagreement over caregiving issues had the strongest impact on women’s levels of depression.
Lawrence Ganong, professor of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri in Columbia, noted, “When people remarry later in life, it means they may have relatively few opportunities to bond with adult stepchildren.”
On measures to take to respond to the results of this study, Ganong said, “The first intervention that everyone can do in their own life is discuss with family members how health issues and caregiving will be handled.”  She and her colleagues have been working to develop tailored instructions designed for remarried spouses and stepfamily members.
Despite the results of this study, the researchers are confident stepfamilies can successfully meet the needs of a caregiver, without fueling feelings of depression.
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