May 5, 2006

Family illness, death may be harder on women

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A serious illness or death in
the family may take a greater toll on women's health than
men's, research findings suggest.

In a study of more than 27,000 adults in Finland,
researchers found that women were more likely than men to
report health problems after a close relative fell ill or died.
And among all adults who reported such health effects, women
typically took longer to recover.

"Our findings suggest that women are more vulnerable than
men in the aftermath of a death or illness in their extended
family," the study authors report in the journal Psychosomatic

This may reflect the tendency of women to be more invested
in family life, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Jussi
Vahtera of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in

Women are more likely to fill the "carer role," either
directly caring for a sick family member or offering emotional
support to the family in general, Vahtera told Reuters Health.

This, he explained, may ultimately exact a toll on their
own health -- an effect known as the "cost of caring."

The findings come from an ongoing health study of 27,217
Finnish public employees, mostly women. As part of that
research, participants reported any recent illnesses or deaths
in the family, and rated their own health on standard

Vahtera's team then linked this information with work
records showing the number of sick days each employee took over
several years, before and after the family illness or death.

Overall, women reported more health problems and took more
sick leave than men did after a spouse or other family member
fell ill or died. And while men tended to report poorer health
only in the few months following the illness or death, many
women were still feeling the effects one year later.

According to Vahtera, the findings suggest that many women
need more help in taking care of ill family members - and that
they need to receive, and not only give, emotional support
during family crises.

"It is of utmost importance to pay special attention to
women's health in the aftermath of a family death or illness,"
he said.

SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine, March/April 2006.