From Serving in the Military to Serving Loved Ones: Unique Experiences of Older Veteran Caregivers

Monin JK, Levy BR, Pietrzak RH.
Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2013 Mar 26. pii: S1064-7481(12)00096-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2012.11.023. [Epub ahead of print]

SOURCE:  Social and Behavioral Sciences Division, Yale School of Public Health, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Electronic address:

OBJECTIVE:  We examined whether older caregiving veterans differ from noncaregiving veterans in terms of health and psychosocial factors and how these factors and caregiving aspects (i.e., hours, relationship type) relate to caregiving strain and reward. We also evaluated two hypotheses: (1) combat exposure provides protection from emotional caregiving strain, and (2) grandparenting is particularly rewarding.

METHODS:  We used a cross-sectional web survey of a nationally representative sample of older veterans in the United States. Data were drawn from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study, and participants were 2,025 U.S. veterans aged 60 or older (mean: 71.0; SD: 7.1; range: 60-96). Participants completed measures of caregiving status, sociodemographic characteristics, combat exposure, physical and mental health, cognitive status, and psychosocial characteristics. Caregivers reported caregiving hours, caregiving type, emotional and physical strain, and reward.

RESULTS:  A total of 20.4% of U.S. older veterans are caregivers. As predicted, among the veteran caregivers, (1) combat exposure was associated with less emotional caregiving strain (odds ratio [OR]: 0.57), and (2) grandparenting was associated with increased perception of caregiving reward (OR: 5.28). Resilience was negatively associated with physical strain, whereas depressive symptoms were associated with greater emotional strain; gratitude, happiness, and social support were additionally associated with greater reward. Caregivers were more likely to be married and highly educated than noncaregivers but did not differ with respect to health or psychosocial characteristics.

CONCLUSION:  One in five older U.S. veterans is a caregiver. Older veterans’ combat exposure may decrease the emotional demands of caregiving, and grandparenting is perceived as particularly rewarding. Results suggest that older veterans are an important caregiving resource that deserves tailored resources.