Study Reveals Gender Disparities in Caregiver Support for Parkinson’s Patients

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by Alice Melão |

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cognition and Parkinson's

Women with Parkinson’s disease are less likely to have caregiver support, and are more frequent users of formal, paid caregiver services than male patients.

Researchers at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, who conducted the study, argue that this might be because women tend to live longer than their husbands, who are often their caregivers.

The study, “Sex disparities in access to caregiving in Parkinson disease,” was published in Neurologythe journal of the American Academy of Neurology. It was supported by the National Parkinson’s Foundation.

“Care provided by family and friends to people with Parkinson’s disease is an important source of support, and our findings show that women living with Parkinson’s are less likely to receive this support than men,” Nabila Dahodwala, MD, associate professor of neurology at Penn Medicine and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “We need strategies to improve women’s access to this support.”

The study used information collected by the Foundation’s Parkinson’s Outcomes Project. It covered 7,209 patients at 21 centers in the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, and Israel, who entered the project from 2009-2014.

The study revealed that 88.4 percent of male patients reported having regular caregivers, compared to 79.4 percent of female patients. Also, more than 20 percent of women reported to having a care partner at all.

Spouses were the primary caregivers for 84% of men, but only for 67% of women, the study reported. As a result, more women (3%) used paid caregiver services than men (1.3%).

Still, men were more likely to have their caregivers accompany them when going to clinical visits.

The findings go along with prior observations on other debilitating conditions, which have revealed that women are less likely than men to have caregiver support, Dahodwala said.

The researchers believe this is because, in part, women live on average longer than men, which makes them more likely to be living alone at later stages of life. Also, women usually are more prone to be caregivers than receivers of care, even when their spouse or caregiver is still present in their lives.

“Changes in health policy to better support older women with disabilities are urgently needed,” Dahodwala stated. “Our overall goal is to develop tailored interventions to support caregivers and, in particular, to design innovative programs to improve outcomes for women with Parkinson’s disease.”

The team is working to identify contributing factors for sex disparities in caregiver support for patients with Parkinson’s. They also aim to find ways to overcome these disparities, improving patient care.

“With this Parkinson’s Foundation-supported study, we are shedding light on and finding solutions for women-specific issues to help improve the health and well-being of women living with Parkinson’s,” John L. Lehr, CEO of the Parkinson’s Foundation, said in another press release. “The Parkinson’s Foundation recently established the Women and PD Initiative to address significant gender differences in the experience of Parkinson’s.”

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