My dad: A man in a woman's world
The fact that dementia disproportionally affects women didn't come as any surprise to me. In the last nine years of my dad's life with dementia he was surrounded by women, most notably myself and my mum, but also my half-sister, fellow care home residents who were predominantly female, visitors to his three care homes who were mostly women, female care workers, nurses, doctors, physios, chefs, housekeeping staff, activity co-ordinators, entertainers and therapeutic practitioners.
My dad could perhaps have been forgiven for feeling marginalised at times amongst the female laughter, endless chatter and delicately balanced emotional dispositions. Of course I wouldn't wish in any way to ignore the contribution men made to my dad's life, most notably my half-brother and my dad's key-worker, but also male residents and visitors (who were in a minority), and a few nurses and doctors, but it really was a woman's world.
Such dedication from the numerous women around my dad enabled him to live as well as he could with his dementia for the last years of his life. I'm not sure whether women are drawn to caring roles because of maternal instincts to nurture and protect, but watching many of the women who supported my dad having children and showing their offspring the same tenderness they showed my dad often made me wonder if biologically women are just more likely to take on caring roles.
If having that caring instinct is cause for celebration and for us to give thanks, then the statistics that tell us more women develop dementia than men are reason for deep concern for the female population. Three out of four long-standing family friends had mothers living with dementia during the time my dad was (all three ladies sadly died before my dad), and for two out of three of those friends, their fathers outlived their mothers.
There are many theories around why more women develop dementia than men, and this disparity is often dismissed as being a by-product of female longevity, but I suspect that isn't the whole story. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing, and I feel that much greater exploration of the physiological and lifestyle aspects unique to women is long overdue.
Do female hormones, contraceptive treatments, the stresses of motherhood, working while maintaining family life and taking on multiple caring responsibilities all have a part to play in leaving women physically and mentally vulnerable to developing dementia? Perhaps we are just better at looking after others than ourselves and as a result pay a very heavy price with our health? I don't know the answers, but I hope researchers will in the future.
As for me, I've taken my personal experiences and used them as a backdrop to a career as a Campaigner, Consultant, Writer and Blogger, thus remaining part of the legions of women involved in some way in the world of dementia. I stand alongside professionals within the different elements of dementia care, policy and support who are predominantly women, and from what I see and hear on a daily basis, dementia looks set to remain - both positively and negatively - dominated by women for the foreseeable future.
Beth Britton: @bethyb1886
|Tags: carers, female roles, research, workforce||Written 2015-03-18|