While much research has focused on the negative emotional and health impacts of serving as a caregiver to a family member or friend, increasing attention is being paid to positive aspects that are also associated with caregiving, such as feeling more useful, appreciating life more, and strengthening relationships with others. (For more details on positive aspects of caregiving, see our previous research synopsis.)
A recent study looked at how racial and ethnic groups of caregivers compared in terms of how they rated on the Positive Aspects of Caregiving Scale. Previous research has shown that African American caregivers report less depression, stress, and strain due to caregiving compared to white caregivers, and researchers wanted to investigate whether this might be due to African Americans experiencing the act of caregiving more positively than white caregivers. These researchers also wanted to establish whether some of the differences in how positively caregiving was viewed might be related to gender or the relationship between caregiver and care recipient (for example, caregiving for a spouse or non-spouse).
The overall responses to the Positive Aspects of Caregiving scale showed considerable agreement with positive statements about caregiving (such as that caregiving has “given more meaning to my life,” “enabled me to learn new skills,” or “made me feel more strong and confident”). However, the scores were more positive for African Americans (average score 33.2) and Hispanics (average score 34.8) than white caregivers (average score 27.4). Additionally, scores were higher for men (average score 33.3) than women caregivers (average score 30.4). Caregiver age or the relationship of the caregiver to the care recipient were not associated with any statistically significant differences.
The researchers also looked into how different racial and ethnic groups responded to specific items on the Positive Aspects of Aging scale. Here, they found that African American caregivers were less likely than white caregivers to report that caregiving made them “feel needed.” Compared to both white and Hispanic caregivers, African Americans were more likely to report that caregiving enabled them to “appreciate life more” and to develop “a positive attitude toward life.” In terms of responses to specific items, there were no statistically significant differences. The reseachers suggest that this may be connected to longstanding African American cultural traditions that support positive attitudes towards life, even when facing adversity or overcoming hardships.
For the senior living and aging services sectors, it is important to recognize that individuals from different racial or ethnic backgrounds may experience caregiving differently. By appreciating these differences, it may be possible to adapt targeted supports to better meet the caregiver’s specific needs. Ideally, future research can also examine what factors within African American and Hispanic cultures lead to their more positive experiences in caregiving, in order to develop effective interventions for all caregivers and alleviate a number of negative health outcomes for caregivers. Focusing on the positive aspects of caregiving and what produces positive outlooks provides one more potential avenue for reducing the negative toll that caregiving can take on caregivers.
Roth DL, Dilworth-Anderson P, Huang J, et al. Positive aspects of family caregiving for dementia: differential item functioning by race. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences (2015); 70(6): 813–819.