Why do spouses provide personal care? A study among care-receiving Dutch community-dwelling older adults

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This study investigates under what conditions older spouses receive personal care from their spouse. Whether spousal care is provided is determined by individual and societal factors related to informal and formal care provision. Individual factors concern the need for care (the care recipient's health status), the spouse's ability to provide care (the spouse's health status) and the quality of the marital bond. Societal factors reflect changing policies on long-term care (indicated by the year in which care started) and gender role socialisation (gender). From the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam, which completed eight observations between 1996 and 2016, we selected 221 independently living married respondents, aged 59-93, who received personal care for the first time and had at least one previous measurement without care use. The results show that if an older adult received personal care, the likelihood of receiving that care from the spouse decreased over the years: from 80% in 1996 to 50% in 2016. A husband or wife was less likely to receive spousal care when the spouse was unable to provide care or the quality of the relationship was low. No gender differences were found in either the prevalence of spousal care use or in the factors associated with that use. Thus, individual factors and the societal context seem to determine whether one receives personal care from their spouse. The decline in the likelihood of personal care provision from a spouse over the years may indicate a crumbling of family solidarity, an unmeasured and growing inability of the older spouse to provide care or an increasing complexity of care needs that requires the use of formal care. As care-giving can be a chronic stressor and most spouses provide care without assistance from others, attention from policy makers is needed to sustain the well-being of older couples.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth and Social Care in the Community
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jul 2021


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