When a person who survives a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) returns home, it can cause a disruption in the family system as everyone learns to adjust. Many studies have explored family and caregiver relationships, but little attention has been paid to gender roles in those relationships. In the studies that do show a gender difference in caregiver psychological distress, there is not a clear path to whether the difference is related to the perception of stress or actual changes in family roles.
A recent study found that both males and females perceive the same amount of psychological distress when caring for a family member with severe TBI. However, males experience significantly more psychological distress as a direct result of family system disruption than females.
One potential reason for this difference is that the traditional role of the female is to take the primary caregiver role. However, when the injured spouse is female, she is no longer available to fill that role, which may cause increased distress in a male partner. Another potential reason for the gender difference is that if the female caregiver takes on the primary caregiver role, she may invest a substantial amount of time and attention to the injured family member, and have less time and fewer resources to give to others. Additionally, male caregivers might not be as likely to join and attend support groups, or they may find that such groups are not targeted to their specific needs.
This study found that males in a caregiver role, even if it is not the primary caregiver, may benefit from specialized support. Family support programs can better support male caregivers by highlighting the importance of supporting the entire family, instead of the primary caregiver.
Anderson MI, Simpson GK, & Morey PJ. The impact of neurobehavioral impairment on family functioning and the psychological well-being of male versus female caregivers of relatives with severe traumatic brain injury. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. (December 2013).