Benefits and Burdens of Caregiving on Aging, Health, and Quality of Life

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Wilson B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Gillian H. Ice, Ohio University, Athens, OH
Aalyia Sadruddin, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Global rises in population aging, mobility, and disease have resulted in abundant research on the relationship between late-life caregiving and health over the past four decades. Data from high-income (HICs) and low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are mixed. Research from HICs such as the United States, suggests that older caregivers have higher stress and poorer mental and physical health than their non-caregiving peers.  In contrast, studies of LMICs have reported a less negative impact on health and wellbeing of older caregivers, and a growing number are suggesting positive impacts. Differences in results have been attributed to varying methodological approaches and cultural forces, which shape the impact of caregiving on the health of older persons. More comparative analyses must be conducted to better understand the relative impact of methodology and context.  This presentation addresses this gap in knowledge by examining the impact of caregiving on older persons’ health from two sets of data in LMICs. The first set of data are from the WHO Study on Global AGEing and Adult Health (SAGE), an epidemiological information study on older persons in Ghana, South Africa, India, and China. The second set of data are from two ethnographic studies conducted in Kenya and Rwanda.  The results are mixed among the SAGE countries.  In South Africa and Ghana, women who live with children tend to have poorer quality of life and health, whereas men are generally healthier.  Living with children had positive impacts on the health of Chinese and Indian men and women. In western Kenya, caregiving women are more stressed but healthier than non-caregivers, while men who describe caregiving stress are less well. Ethnographic data from Rwanda reveal that, despite its challenges, caregiving in old age has both positive and negative effects. In this context, older persons involved in caring for non-related children reported being more worried about life in old age, compared to those caregiving for related children. Both studies show that caregiving can be both challenging and rewarding. Overall, this presentation illuminates the multifaceted nature of caregiving in the wake of social and demographic challenges. It also encourages researchers to consider nuances rooted in local contexts. Findings from this research speaks to current debates on the changing roles and contributions of older persons in society, and will be of particular interest to scholars and practitioners working at the nexus of research and practice.