More Support for Women Caring for Elderly Men

The hardest aspect of looking after your partner after stroke is not the physical disability but personality changes and a lack of support from society. This has been highlighted in a study from the Sahlgrenska Academy, at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Previous research has found that around 70 per cent of elderly stroke patients are dependent on help from their partner. Most of this informal care is provided by elderly women.

In the study researcher Gunilla Gosman Hedström made a qualitative study in elderly women whose partner had stroke. Her study shows that many experience a serious lack of support and information from society.

Initial support focuses on practical devices to make home-based care possible – but everyday life then throws up some very different problems. In Hedström’s study, women reported frustration that they no longer recognised the man to whom they may have been married for as many as 50 years.

“Many stroke patients suffer from concentration problems, fatigue, irritation and difficulties communicating,” says Hedström. “This means that the couple lose the intimacy and closeness that they once shared, which causes considerable sorrow. The women find that it is like ‘living with another man’.”

In the present qualitative study 16 elderly women (median age 74) discussed their experience in focus groups. The results show that many live in constant fear of their partner suffering another stroke, and that they also feel guilty about any feelings of irritation they might have.

“The women saw their partners more as patients than as husbands,” Hedström explains. “They felt tied down with little time to devote to their own needs, and the partner's altered personality meant that many had cut down on socialising. Many have little time to themselves. They try to create time to carry out everyday activities, but the men struggle to be by themselves. For many women, the only chance of some ‘own time’ was to silent get out of bed once their partner was asleep for the night.”; Source: University of Gothenburg

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