Although Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects men and women equally, researchers have discovered an area of disparity: care giving. A study published this month in Neurology by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania shows that only 79.4 percent of women with Parkinson’s disease have a care partner, compared to 88.4 percent of men with the same condition. Read more about Parkinson’s disease here.
“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,” said study lead author Nabila Dahodwala, MD, associate professor of Neurology at Penn Medicine. “We need strategies to improve women’s access to this support.”
Dahodwala and colleagues’ analysis was part of a larger study of Parkinson’s patients, funded by the National Parkinson’s Foundation (NPF), that has been ongoing since 2009 at Penn Medicine and 20 other centers in the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, and Israel. The analysis covered 7,209 patients enrolled during 2009-2014.
The researchers found that male patients also were more likely to have a caregiver accompany them on their first visit to a study center (61.0 percent vs 56.8 percent). This was despite the fact that caregivers of female patients reported experiencing significantly less psychological strain than caregivers of male patients.
One reason for the difference? Women outlive their husbands. Women on average live a few years longer than men, and so are more likely when elderly to be living alone rather than with a spouse/caregiver, she added.
Another reason: Husbands don’t get practice giving care. Women generally are much more likely than men to be caregivers, hinting that even married female patients whose husbands are still living are less likely to receive care from them, compared to vice-versa. The study showed that 84 percent of the male patients reported having their spouse as their caregiver, compared to just 67 percent of the female patients. The female patients also were more than twice as likely (3.0 percent vs. 1.3 percent) to have a paid caregiver.
“Our overall goal is to develop tailored interventions to support caregivers,” said Dahodwala. “In particular, to design innovative programs to improve outcomes for women with Parkinson’s disease.”