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Int J Older People Nurs. 2013 May;8(2):159-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-3743.2012.00340.x. Epub 2012 Jul 16.

Experiences of long-term home care as an informal caregiver to a spouse: gendered meanings in everyday life for female carers.

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1
School of Health, Care and Social Welfare, Mälardalens University, Eskilstuna, Sweden. henrik.eriksson@mdh.se

Abstract

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES:

In this article, we explore the gender aspects of long-term caregiving from the perspective of women providing home care for a spouse suffering from dementia.

BACKGROUND:

One of the most common circumstances in which a woman gradually steps into a long-term caregiver role at home involves caring for a spouse suffering from dementia. Little attention has been paid to examining the experiences and motivations of such caregivers from a feminist perspective.

METHODS:

Twelve women, all of whom were informal caregivers to a partner suffering from dementia, were interviewed on the following themes: the home, their partner's disease, everyday life, their relationship and autonomy. The results of these interviews were analysed in relation to gender identity and social power structures using a feminist perspective.

RESULTS:

The findings of this study show that the informants frequently reflected on their caregiving activities in terms of both general and heteronormative expectations. The results suggest that the process of heteropolarisation in these cases can be an understood as a consequence of both the spouse's illness and the resulting caring duties. Also, the results suggest that the act of caring leads to introspections concerning perceived 'shortcomings' as a caregiver. Finally, the results indicate that it is important to recognise when the need for support in day-to-day caring is downplayed.

CONCLUSIONS:

Women view their caregiving role and responsibilities as paramount; their other duties, including caring for themselves, are deemed less important. We stress that the intense commitment and responsibilities that women experience in their day-to-day caring must be acknowledged and that it is important for healthcare professionals to find mechanisms for providing choices for female caregivers without neglecting their moral concerns.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE:

Female carers face difficulties in always living up to gendered standards and this need to be considered when evaluating policies and practices for family carers.

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