Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Hyeonjung Lee (Seoul National University)
Because of population aging and family structure changes in Korea, spousal caregiving is an increasingly common type of family caregiving in old age. This study examined caregiving behaviors of elderly men caring for spouses under life-sustaining treatment, and it explored their sense of gender identity as husband and father in dynamic relationships with their wives and children. To comprehensively investigate elderly men’s multi-layered and dynamic experiences and behaviors, this study used ethnographic methods. The results found that life history experiences and psychological meanings of caregiving derived from those experiences were deeply involved in the decisions of the men who wanted their wives to receive life-sustaining treatment. Furthermore, in the caregiving of the elderly female patients, children, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and nurses as well as the primary caregiver, constituted “webs of care.” Male spouses’ patriarchal authority and the emotional empathy among family members created complex dynamics in the special circumstances of “unexpected” life-sustaining treatments. In addition, in situations where life-sustaining treatments were prolonged, male spouses, children, and caregivers continued to participate with different perspectives about the target, method, and nature of caregiving; consequently, various meanings of caregiving competed with each other. Based on these findings, the study confirmed that elderly men’s spousal caregiving had complex characteristics that depended on their life history experiences that they had shared with their spouses. Further, the caregiving recipients’ medical conditions and dynamic relationships with various participants also related to elderly men’s caregiving, which ultimately created fundamental questions about the best caregiving for the patient.