John O'Connor
John O’Connor

In the book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” author John Gray describes how gender differences help explain why the two sexes look at life a bit differently. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest that metaphorically at least, men and women are from different planets. And while each gender may be acclimated to its own planet’s ecosystem, it struggles in the confines of the other.

Gray must have been on to something, if selling 50 million copies of the book and spending nearly two years on a best seller list is any indication.

Now comes a study that suggests this interplanetary divide might also extend to nursing home residents. In the February edition of the British magazine Ageing and Society, investigators examined how older adults deal with the physical and other realities of coping with multiple conditions late in life.

Their findings will probably not surprise many frontline caregivers. Older women were generally dismayed by the ways their bodies had taken on a new appearance. Women also tended to be much more concerned about how their illnesses might affect their significant others. According to the study’s authors, these reactions responded to “feminine norms of selflessness, sensitivity to others and nurturance.”

And how did men deal with their accumulating activity of daily living challenges? Most tended to be forthright in their frustration over ADL loss, but resigned in a stoic sort of way. Investigators said these responses corresponded to “masculine norms of control, invulnerability, physical prowess, self-reliance and toughness.”

The study was based on data from in-depth interviews with 16 men and 19 women aged 73 or older. All participants were dealing with three to 14 chronic conditions.

So does this mean caregivers should treat residents differently, depending on their gender? Hardly. But if these findings are generally valid — and my gut tells me they are — there may be a lesson to be taken.

It probably wouldn’t hurt to remind your staff that residents may tend to deal with their declining health differently. This knowledge might be helpful in guiding staff-resident interactions in ways that maximize empathy and communication.

Your residents have it plenty tough already. The last thing they need is a staff that treats them as if they are from a different planet. Even if they might seem to be acting that way.