August is Women’s month and we would like to use this opportunity to highlight the important role female caregivers play in caregiving. When you think of dementia and dementia care, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t that they are gendered issues – but when faced with the overwhelming statistics that female caregivers outnumber their male counterparts by two to one, you start to realise that it very much is a gendered issue.
According to caregiver.org, “Women provide the majority of informal care to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends and neighbours, and they play many roles while caregiving – hands-on health provider, care manager, friend, companion, surrogate decision-maker and advocate.”
According to research conducted globally, the burden of caregiving for people with dementia falls squarely on the shoulders of women. 66% of caregivers are female, and on top of that, they spend as much as 50% more time providing this care than the men doing the same job. Furthermore, this is often not their only job – as the average female caregiver is 49 and works outside the home while also providing 20 hours per week on average of unpaid care, typically, to her mother. Most of these women still have families and young children to care for.
How do we support the women who are doing the most for dementia care?
What we know is that women provide a substantial proportion of informal care to people who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and in low and middle-income countries the proportion is even larger. We can only assume that the effects of being a caregiver, on their overall health and wellbeing as well as the financial implications, is similarly proportionately greater for women. The formal care workforce who provide health and social care in communities, hospitals and care homes, particularly for dementia are also predominantly female.
Women are at the forefront of dementia care and they play a significant role in the lives of those who have dementia, and they also carry the burden of it too – mentally, physically and emotionally. We need to provide adequate support to women in these roles and we also need to ensure that there is regular awareness-raising by health and social care organisations of the formal and informal services available and how to access them. We need to lift the stigma on asking for help or making use of a formal facility for dementia care; something we can only do by educating the public on the benefits of proper treatment on the progression of dementia.
Seeking help as a dementia carer
Sometimes it is difficult to know how to ask for help, and for the other side, it is sometimes difficult to know ‘how’ to help. As the family or a friend of someone who is a dementia carer, you can ask them to give you a list of tasks that they can use some regular help with and you can let them know what you’re available to do. This will help to alleviate some of the burden, and hopefully give them a much-needed break.
If they aren’t already a part of a support group for Alzheimer’s carers, then help them find one. Livewell has a free dementia Facebook support group where like-minded people can connect with Livewell experts and other families experiencing the same struggles. You can join the Livewell support group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/livewellvillages/