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Changes in caregiver personal support networks: Gender differences and effects on health (cuidar-se study)

Background: Technological changes have led to important advances in medical diagnoses and treat-ments that prolong the informal care process. Support from the personal network of informal caregivers is an undervalued resource and the changes that have occurred over time are unknown. Objectives: The aim of this study was to analyze the changes in personal network support among informal caregivers and to examine the effect of these changes on self-perceived caregiver health, with a focus on differences between men and women and caregivers with high and low levels of burden We also investigated caregiver perceptions and explanations of changes to their support network (losses and additions and no change). Methods: Using a mixed-methods approach, data were obtained from 32 caregivers that were intentionally selected in Spain, who were interviewed twice with a one-year interval. In the quantitative phase, personal networks analysis was performed with Egonet software, which obtained data on the composition and functional content in social support from 1600 personal relationships (25 alters for each ego in the two waves). In the qualitative phase, semi-structured inter-views were conducted in the two waves with a guide in order to explore the changes in informal support resources over time. Results: The selected men with high levels of burden pointed out a loss of network support with more discouraging reports compared with the low-burden male caregivers. Furthermore, the selected women with low burden levels mentioned losses too; however, their reports were more positive. Women reported improved health, especially those with low burden scores in the first wave and those who did not lose support. Caregivers with a high initial burden and who lost support reported worse health, particularly men and women with a strong sense of duty toward care. Social support from personal networks is important for caregiver health and its effects are influenced by gender roles. Conclusions: Our findings could help by improving the relational and social capital of informal caregivers and adapting them to the new needs of formal home care sys-tems. 

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International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health
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