WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
Jan. 14, 2010 -- Caregivers who find their responsibilities highly stressful
may be at increased risk for stroke, according to a new study.
The study, published in the journal Stroke, looked at 767 people who
provide in-home care for an ailing spouse.
Those caregivers who said tending to their ailing spouse caused "a lot of
strain" were 23% more likely to have a stroke compared with their caregiving
counterparts who said they felt no strain regarding their responsibilities.
Stroke risk was most pronounced among men, especially African-American men,
the study shows. While men were less likely to report high strain than women,
those that reported high strain were at elevated risk for stroke.
Caregiver strain did not affect risk of heart disease in the new study.
Previous studies have shown that caregiver stress can increase risk of
depression and early death, but exactly how caregiving stress affects stroke
risk, and why it doesn't seem to affect heart disease risk, is not fully
"Highly stressful caregiving can be chronic and include many difficult and
uncontrollable stressors such as witnessing the suffering of a loved one,
managing stressful behavior problems, financial strain, social isolation, and
providing physically and psychologically demanding personal care tasks,"
write the researchers, who were led by William E. Haley, PhD of the University
of South Florida in Tampa. "Caregiving strain can also interfere with other
health behaviors such as exercising and getting proper rest."
This is why caring for the caregiver becomes extremely important, Haley
"One important kind of assistance is counseling, where the caregiver can
learn new information and skills to help them be better prepared to manage
their family member's illness and their own stress," he says. "Another kind of
assistance is receiving more help in providing care from other family members,
friends, or community agencies, or using respite care services."
This can make a big difference as many caregivers shoulder all of the
responsibility themselves. "Some caregivers also benefit from going to support
groups," he says. "Overall, research shows that caregivers benefit from
programs that help them learn ways to feel better prepared to take care of
their relative, to manage their own stress, and to get more day to day help in
SOURCES:William E. Haley, PhD, University of South Florida, Tampa.Haley, W.E. Stroke, published online before print Jan. 14, 2010.
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