A senior woman blankets her wheelchaired husband.

Health & wellbeing

A recent study by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has brought to light the significantly lower quality of life experienced by individuals assisting their partners with functional limitations. The 2020 FinSote population survey, with responses from over 28,000 Finnish residents aged 20 and above, indicates that these caregivers face substantial psychological strain and assess their health as poorer compared to the general population.

Approximately one in ten spouses in Finland is involved in caring for a partner with reduced functional ability, with a majority being over the age of 65 (61% of caregivers). “The results show that some of these caregivers suffer from serious coping problems and may themselves be in need of assistance. If the caregiver’s health or ability to function deteriorates, it can limit their caregiving capacity, leaving the person in need without necessary care,” explains Anna-Mari Aalto, a leading expert at THL.

Supporting the Health and Well-being of Caregivers

Spousal caregivers reported receiving insufficient support services from social and health sectors to aid their resilience. They expressed a need for more access to nurse, doctor, and dentist services, as well as inadequate home care services and guidance from social workers.

“Taking on the responsibility of caring for a loved one can be very demanding, often leading to neglect of one’s own well-being, health, and needs. Additionally, it can be challenging to distinguish between one’s own service needs and those of the spouse. A common sentiment was the inadequacy of home services, which might reflect the joint need for assistance in daily life,” says Katja Ilmarinen, a specialist researcher at THL.

Interestingly, the respondents did not recognize a need for caregiver support services or caregiving allowances. Only one in ten of those assisting their spouses felt the need for these services, and over half of them found these supports inadequate or had not received them at all.

The Role of Informal Care in Finland

In Finland, informal care by spouses significantly supplements social and health services. “Without the aid provided by spouses, the costs of these services would be considerably higher. Even when spousal care does not meet the criteria for formal caregiver support under the law, caregivers are entitled to certain services under the Social Welfare Act to support their well-being. Safe caregiving requires ensuring the caregivers’ well-being, health, and competence. It is especially crucial to identify high-risk care situations where both the caregiver and the recipient are in danger of burnout, and to offer support early on,” states Sari Kehusmaa, a leading expert at THL.

This study sheds light on the often overlooked struggles of spousal caregivers in Finland, emphasizing the need for enhanced support and recognition of their vital role in the healthcare system.