Study finds quality of life for men lower than for women in nursing homes

Moving from independent housing to a nursing home can drastically change a person’s lifestyle and have negative impacts on their quality of life (QoL). QoL is a person-centered outcome that is distinct from, although related to, their physical and mental health. As suggested by past studies, the QoL for residents of nursing homes is influenced by many factors that are resident- and facility-specific. However, in a recent mixed methods study published by The Gerontologist, Heather Davila, PhD, MPA, research assistant professor in General Internal Medicine, explored the correlation between gender and resident QoL.

Through a survey of 9,000 residents and thematic analysis of more than five dozen resident interviews and other observations, Davila and colleagues found that men report lower QoL than women in nursing homes. “Even after controlling for individual and facility differences,” Davila writes, “men’s lower QoL ratings remained.” Whereas women commonly discussed enjoying activities and friendships in the nursing home—with some even describing the nursing home as “a place of respite” from family caregiving responsibilities, men more frequently described nursing homes as undesirable for long-term living. The study also found that men had higher rates of serious mental illness and behavioral symptoms than women. Most men also reported having fewer and weaker social connections than women.

Davila’s publication, “Why Men Fare Worse: A Mixed Methods Study Examining Gender Differences in Nursing Home Resident Quality of Life,” proposes potential strategies to reduce gender differences in residents’ QoL. The resident interviews revealed that men would enjoy more community outings and more opportunities to play games with other men. With men reporting significantly less satisfaction with activities and relationships in nursing homes, Davila proposes that facilities tailor more activities for men and find ways to strength men’s relationships to close the gender gap in QoL. She also proposes that increasing the number of male staff in the homes may have a positive impact.

Davila and researchers note that because interviews took place at four different nursing homes in the Midwest, regional or cultural differences may not be represented in the results. In addition, they note that US Department of Veterans Affairs-run facilities, which primarily serve men, may hold the solutions to some of these concerns for men and could be examined in future research.

Davila collaborated with researchers from the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, and Johns Hopkins University. Davila’s study was part of a broader study on racial and ethnic disparities in nursing home resident QoL led by Tetyana Shippee, PhD, at the University of Minnesota, with funding from the National Institutes of Health-National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

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