Background: In an aging population an increasing number of elderly caregivers will be called upon to provide care over a long period, during which time they will be burdened both by caregiving and by the physiological effects of their own aging. Among them there will be more aged male caregivers, who will probably be less prepared than women to become caregivers. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between caregivers’ gender, age, family income, living arrangements and social support as independent variables, and depressive symptoms, comorbidities, level of frailty, grip strength, walking speed and social isolation, as dependent variables.
Methods: 176 elderly people (123 women) were selected from a sample of a population-based study on frailty (n = 900), who had cared for a spouse (79.3%) and/or parents (31.4%) in the past five years (mean age = 71.8 ± 4.86 years; mean monthly family income in minimum wages = 4.64 ± 5.14). The study used questionnaires and self-report scales, grip strength and walking speed tests.
Results: 65% of participants evaluated caregiving as being very stressful. Univariate analyses of regression showed low family income as a risk factor for depression; being female and low perceived social support as a risk for comorbidities; being 80 years of age and above for low grip strength; and being male for social isolation indicated by discontinuity of activities and social roles. In multivariate analyses of regression, poverty arose as a risk factor for depression and being female for comorbidities.
Conclusions: Gender roles, age, income and social support interacted with physical and emotional health, and with the continuity of social participation of elderly caregivers. Special attention must be given to male caregivers.