"Women often are not only caregivers for their parents but primary caregivers for children and others," says Dr. Ladson Hinton, director of Education Core for the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center Sacramento, Calif. "Women with professional careers have an amplification of stress and competing demands."
The kind of caretaking women take on is also different from men's, according to the report. Women often dealt with the day-to-day duties such as bathing, feeding and assisting with going to the bathroom, while male caretakers are more likely to handle finances, fix things around the house or run errands.
"I will see an adult son doing groceries and paying bills and they don't seem to be stuck in the day-to-day requirements of that hands-on caregiving that daughters feel they have to do," Austrom of Indiana University says.
Dealing with the repetitive, day-to-day tasks may contribute to the physical stress seen in caregivers, including reduced immune function, slower wound healing and high levels of stress hormones, authors note in the report.
The stress of caring for a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's takes a mental toll on female caretakers, often contributing to greater levels of anxiety and depression than seen in their male counterparts.
One in four caretakers experience clinically significant anxiety in relation to caretaking, with women being more affected by men, the report finds.
The biggest gender gap in the study was the extent to which caretakers feared developing Alzheimer's themselves. Women were more fearful of this fate and three-quarters of them thought that having a parent with the disease meant they had a "good chance" of getting it themselves.
"Women in general report higher rates of depression or depressive symptoms, so you'll see a spike in the number of female caregivers reporting depression," Austrom says.
Given the strains inherent in the duties of caretaking, it is more likely that women will experience anxiety and depression and become overwhelmed with their duties as caregiver.
The increased risk for physical and mental consequences of caretaking for women highlights a great need in the public health sphere when it comes to caring for those who care for others, the Shriver Report notes. Beyond more paid-care options and more flexible work schedules offered by employees, the report emphasizes the need to assess caretakers before offering support.
"The many differences among caregivers and caregiving situations mean that it is essential to understand each caregiver's situation before trying to identify ways to support that caregiver," the authors write.