Higher Purpose, Greater Gains? A Look at Caregivers & Their Sense of Purpose

Multiple beneficial health outcomes have been associated with having a sense of purpose in life. A recent study looked at whether sense of purpose in caregivers for individuals with dementia—or in the individuals with dementia themselves—is associated with a more positive caregiving experience. It also looked at how gender may affect any association.

This study used data collected from 153 informal, unpaid caregivers and the individuals with dementia they cared for. As part of the National Health and Aging Trends study, both groups had answered an item asking how much they agreed with the statement, “My life has meaning and purpose.” Caregivers in the study were also asked additional items that measured “caregiver gain.” These items asked about the extent to which caregiving taught them to deal with difficult settings, brought them closer to the person with dementia, made them more confident in their abilities, and gave them confidence that the person with dementia was receiving good care.

In addition, the survey also measured a number of variables for both the caregiver (education, age, health, and relationship to the person with dementia) and person with dementia (other medical conditions) that could be statistically controlled for in the data analysis. Potential stressors, such as assisting with activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), and medical care, were also measured, as was an index of caregiving role overload (exhaustion, being overwhelmed with tasks, and lack of time to oneself).

Regardless of gender, caregivers’ greater sense of purpose was associated with greater caregiver gains. Interestingly, caring for an individual with a higher sense of purpose in life was also associated with greater caregiver gains, but only for female caregivers. The reasons for this remain unclear, but the authors suggest that women caregivers may be more aware of or more influenced by their care recipient’s sense of purpose. The researchers also looked at whether caregivers who were spouses to their care recipients moderated the links between sense of purpose and caregiver gain, but found no differences.



Polenick CA, Sherman CW, Birditt KS, et al. Purpose in life among family care partners managing dementia: links to caregiving gains. The Gerontologist. (2018). DOI: 10.1093/geront/gny063


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