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Women's Health

Veterans' Caregiving Often Falls to Spouse

96% of Veterans’ Caregivers Are Women, and the Burden Can Be Heavy, Study Finds
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 10, 2010 -- When veterans with service-related injuries or illness need caregivers, the role typically falls on women, usually spouses or partners, a new report finds.

The study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Health Foundation reports that 96% of veterans’ caregivers are women, compared to an overall nationwide finding that 65% of family caregivers are women. The study also says that 70% of veterans’ caregivers are their spouses or partners, compared to 6% nationally.

The youngest veterans requiring caregivers are those whose ranks are growing from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, says the report. More than 40% of veterans who need caregivers are between the ages of 18 and 54, the report finds.

Younger Veterans Receive Help From Parents and Family

About one in four (26%) of the youngest veterans are being cared for by parents who are likely to need more caregiving support as they age.

Conditions for which veterans need help differ widely, depending on when and in which war they served, the report says.

Among key findings:

  • 70% of caregivers say the veteran they help has a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder. Nationally, mental or emotional health problems are reported by only 28% of caregivers.
  • 29% of caregivers say their veteran has traumatic brain injury, 28% list diabetes, and 20% paralysis or spinal cord injury.
  • 80% of veterans’ caregivers say they deal with two or more of the 10 specific conditions they were asked about, and 67% named additional conditions, with 24% mentioning problems such as bone, joint, or limb trouble, 12% hearing or ear problems, 9% heart conditions, and 9% neuropathy or nerve issues.
  • The time involvement for caregivers of veterans is also much greater than for other people, with 30% reporting being in their role for 10 years or more, compared to only 15% of caregivers of others nationally.

Toll of Caring for Veterans

“Not only are caregivers of veterans in their role for a longer period, but their burden of care is also heavier -- 65% are in a high-burden caregiving situation, compared to 31% nationally,” the report says. “The increased burden is due to a greater likelihood of helping with activities of daily living, including dressing, bathing, feeding and dealing with incontinence.”

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