Abstract

Context

Older women commonly assume a caregiving role for their husbands at the end of life and are more vulnerable to poorer health, well-being, and social and economic challenges.

Objectives

The aim of this study was to ascertain older women's experiences of spousal caregiving at the end of life and the ways in which this experience impacts on the transition to widowhood.

Methods

Longitudinal, in-depth, semistructured interviews were conducted with older women three times over a one-year period after the death of their husbands. This report focuses on the initial interviews that examined the transition from caregiving to widowhood. Transcripts were analyzed using interpretive phenomenological analysis methods. Participants were community-dwelling women older than 65 years who had recently been caregivers for their husbands who died within the past two years.

Results

Older women caregivers described their caregiver role as taxing, particularly in light of their own chronic conditions that they failed to prioritize and address. They did not ask for help in managing their roles and health problems, but quietly endured. Hence, they did not communicate their needs or strains explicitly. The degree of perceived adequacy of communication and interaction with health professionals were important factors impacting on their bereavement.

Conclusion

It is imperative for health professionals to appreciate that older women caregivers may need more supportive interaction and information during the end-of-life caregiving, they may have expectations of communication, and they may deny or fail to focus on their own health issues. A patient/family/carer-centered approach could negate this oversight and improve the outcomes for these women as they transition into widowhood.

Keywords

caregivers, widowhood, older women, qualitative

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Link to Publisher Version (DOI)

http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2013.01.005