Medical Care Activities Among Spouses of Older Adults With Functional Disability: Implications for Caregiving Difficulties and Gains

Courtney A. Polenick, Amanda N. Leggett, Helen C. Kales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Objectives Spouses of older adults with functional disability often provide help with their partner's medical care. Yet little is known about the implications of these activities for spouses' caregiving experiences. We examined how spouses' medical care activities are linked to both positive and negative aspects of caregiving (difficulties and gains), and whether these associations vary by their age, gender, or education. Design Retrospective analysis of data from the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study and National Study of Caregiving cross-sectional studies. Setting Caregivers and care recipients/proxies were interviewed by telephone at home. Participants Nationally representative U.S. sample of 345 spousal caregivers and their community-dwelling care recipients aged 65 years and older. Measurements Caregivers' self-reported sociodemographics, care activities, health conditions, well-being, and support resources. Care recipients (or proxies) reported on their health conditions and dementia status. Results A higher number of health system interaction tasks (e.g., making appointments) were significantly associated with greater emotional caregiving difficulties, whereas a higher number of medical/nursing tasks (e.g., giving shots/injections) were significantly linked to greater caregiving gains. A higher number of medical/nursing tasks were also significantly associated with greater physical difficulties for caregiving wives and spouses with less education. Conclusions Medical care activities may have both positive and negative consequences for spousal caregivers, which depend partly on sociodemographics. This study underscores the importance of ensuring that spouses have the resources and support needed to provide complex care to their partners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1085-1093
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Caregivers
  • late-life disability
  • medical care
  • spouse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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