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Female Caregivers May Suffer More

May 12, 2016

About 66 percent of caregivers in the U.S. are female, according to the AARP.

Providing care for a loved one is an around-the-clock responsibility — one that often is extremely stressful and can take a physical and emotional toll on caregivers.

A recent study highlights the many challenges female caregivers face. Researchers talked to more than 280 family caregivers and found that female caregivers had less family support, lower self-esteem and faced more harm to their health and schedules compared to male caregivers.

Unfortunately, these results aren’t surprising. There are gender expectations associated with caregiving, and far too often, the largest share of this responsibility falls on women. This is in addition to their everyday responsibilities as wives, mothers, friends, employees and community members. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for an elderly parent who does not live with her. Female caregivers also spend as much as 50 percent of their time providing care.

"Taking care of sick family members is a responsibility often expected of women," said Karla Washington, the study’s author and an assistant professor in the University of Missouri's department of family and community medicine. "If society views female caregivers as being naturally better at caregiving, other family members might be less likely to think the caregiver needs support, and thus less likely to offer it."

When a loved one is aging or faces a serious illness, such as cancer, family support is critical. However, caregivers often need support, too. At UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health, we realize just how important it is to provide care to patients and those who support them day in and day out. The center’s Cancer Support Community is a critical resource for families and caregivers, providing a unique outlet where people can share their feelings, frustrations and concerns. Cancer support groups include people who have intimate knowledge and a shared experience of what families battling cancer are going through, and they’re an important outlet for caregivers who may not feel comfortable sharing their feelings with other family members or the person they are caring for.

The Cancer Center offers regular Cancer Support Community events, including support groups that share coping strategies for dealing with stress, art and music therapy and opportunities to relax just with fellow caregivers and enjoy snacks and companionship. All these events and support resources are designed to help caregivers manage their stress — in whatever way they can.

All caregivers face an enormous level of responsibility when helping a loved one cope with cancer or another serious illness. Female caregivers, in particular, face ongoing challenges because they are responsible for the majority of caregiving. If you are in this situation, know that you don’t have to do it alone. Many caregivers are fortunate to have family members or close friends willing to help with caregiving tasks. Even a break for one day can benefit a caregiver’s emotional and physical health. Don’t hesitate to seek support groups if you are in need of someone to talk to. The Cancer Support Community is a great resource for this, as are local support groups in your area, which you can find on the American Cancer Society’s website.

If you’d like to learn more about The Cancer Support Community at UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health, please visit this page for more information.