The Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) allows researchers to examine how regional and policy differences across 11 European countries may impact the health and well-being of the continent’s aging population. A recent examination of this data looked at how regional differences in long-term care provision impacted the well-being of 1,800 spousal caregivers.
Across Europe, the researchers found that the spousal caregivers in this study reported lower life satisfaction and higher scores on loneliness and depression than non-caregivers. They also found that these caregivers reported having less control of their lives. These caregivers were more likely to live in rural areas and have less access to public services.
Turning to regional differences, the researchers looked at the number of long-term care (LTC) beds per 100 persons 65 or better, using this as a proxy for the general availability of formal care for older adults. They found that northern, western, and central European countries had a greater number of beds per capita than eastern and southern European countries.
The researchers examined how availability of LTC beds impacted the reported well-being of the spousal caregivers. They found that “each additional nursing home bed per 100 people aged 65 years and over (with LTC beds ranging from 0.3 to 9.9 in our sample) diminishes the negative effect of partner care by roughly 10%.” They also found a greater perceived sense of control among caregivers was associated with greater availability of LTC beds, an association not seen among non-caregivers. Further analyses showed that a greater perceived sense of control was associated with improvements in the caregivers’ well-being.
In light of the above, the authors conclude that “offering alternatives to informal care is a key factor to improve caregiver well-being” and they encourage communities and governments to focus on suppliers of formal care and arranging formal support services that can unburden unpaid caregivers.