Veterans' Caregiving Often Falls to Spouse

96% of Veterans’ Caregivers Are Women, and the Burden Can Be Heavy, Study Finds

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 09, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

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.”

The burden on caregivers also can affect their physical and mental health, the report says. Those who take care of veterans with mental problems, including PTSD and depression, are much more likely to report feeling emotionally stressed, isolated, and financially pressed. The report says that:

  • 68% of caregivers of veterans feel highly stressed, compared to 31% of those who take care of other adults nationally.
  • Among the 30% of veterans’ caregivers who have children under 18 in their homes, two-thirds report spending less time with their kids than they would like.
  • 57% of veterans’ caregivers said their children or grandchildren had emotional or school problems as a result of their caregiving or the veteran’s condition.
  • 60% of caregivers report declines in healthy behaviors, such as going to the dentist or their own doctor.

The study was based on an online survey of adult caregivers who provide care to a veteran whose injury or illness is related to military service. The report also includes finding from focus groups that discussed caregiving and telephone interviews with people from the online survey. The report puts the total number of survey respondents at 462.

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News release, National Alliance for Caregiving, United Health Foundation.

Caregivers of Veterans - Serving on the Homefront, November 2010.

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