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Spouse Caregivers in Sickness and in Health

These caregivers assist their spouses with medication management and many other medical/nursing tasks.

Husband helping wife with medications

The United Hospital Fund and AARP Public Policy Institute recently released a report showing that spouses who are caregivers not only perform many of the tasks that healthcare professionals do—a range of medical/nursing tasks including medication management, wound care, using meters and monitors, and more—but they also are significantly more likely to perform these tasks than are other family caregivers, who are mostly adult children. Nearly two-thirds of spouses who are family caregivers performed such tasks (65 percent), compared to 42 percent of nonspousal caregivers. The report, "Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care to Their Spouses," was produced with support from the John A. Hartford Foundation.

Despite these demanding responsibilities, spouses were less likely than nonspousal caregivers to receive in-home support from healthcare professionals; 84 percent of spousal care recipients received no professional healthcare on site, compared to 65 percent of nonspousal care recipients. Compounding the challenge, spouses also were less likely to receive help from family or friends or home care aides: 58 percent of the spouses reported no additional help from others, compared to 20 percent of the nonspouses. This lack of support elicited special concern from the authors. "Taking care of one another in an era of complicated medication regimens, wound care, and tasks associated with complex chronic care is a challenge that no one should have to face alone," they stated in the study.

The report, which is a publication in the "Insight on the Issues" series, summarizes new findings drawn from additional analysis of data based on a December 2011 national survey of 1,677 family caregivers, 20 percent of whom were spouses or partners. "The challenges spouses who are caregivers face are daunting," said Susan Reinhard, Senior Vice President and Director of the AARP Public Policy Institute and co-author of the report. "Nearly three-quarters of the spouses they care for were taking five or more medications, which are not easy to coordinate. And some of these medications were administered in nonpill forms, including injections and infusion pumps, with greater frequency than one might expect."

The report notes that it is unclear why spouses receive less help, hypothesizing that it could be choice, financial limitations, lack of awareness about resources, or fear of losing independence. The authors call for additional research to help tailor interventions that support but do not supplant the primary bond between spouses.

"As a former spousal caregiver, I certainly understand the desire to take care of all of a spouse’s needs," said the report’s co-author Carol Levine, Director of the Families and Health Care Project for United Hospital Fund. "But the care that is needed and the responsibilities thrust upon family caregivers by our healthcare system—typically, without adequate support—are more than any family caregiver, particularly an older spouse, can handle alone."

Read the entire "Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care to Their Spousesreport on the AARP website.

Source: AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership of nearly 38 million that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities, and fights for the issues that matter most to families, such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse. Find more information at


Learn More

For more information about the challenges and needs of those who provide care for a husband, wife or partner, and to learn how in-home care helps these couples remain safe and well at home, read "Supporting Spouse Caregivers" in the February 2012 issue of the Caring Right at Home online newsletter.


Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in-home care services.

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