Virginia Elder Law

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Caregiver Stress Raises Risk of Stroke

The stress of caring for a disabled spouse increases the risk of stroke substantially, and the increased risk is greater for husbands than for wives.  "We followed 767 people out of a large study who were caring for a spouse with any disabling condition," said William E. Haley, a clinical psychologist who is a professor in the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "The spouses who had the highest scores for strain had the highest risk scores for stroke."  Strain was measured on a standard score by asking the participants how many days during the past week they had felt depressed, lonely, sad or had crying spells. The answers were matched to the Framingham Stroke Risk Score, which measures risk factors such as age, blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, smoking and diabetes. The study is published in the Jan. 14 online edition of Stroke.  A high score on the measure of strain was associated with an overall 23 percent higher risk of stroke. The association was stronger in husbands than in wives. It was highest in black men with high care giving strain, with a 26.9 percent increased risk of stroke in the next 10 years.  "For the most part, when men are caregivers they use more paid services," Haley said. "It's likely that men who are not getting help, African-American men in particular, experience tremendous strain. Women are more prepared to be caregivers, and show less risk tied to strain."  It's not clear whether the high-risk scores will result in an increased incidence of stroke, he noted. "We haven't followed enough people for long enough to do that analysis," Haley said. "Over the next several years, we will have the ability to see whether high degrees of strain lead to a higher incidence of stroke and mortality."  Caregivers who feel the strain can and should seek help, he advised. "We do know already that caregivers can benefit from all sorts of counseling," Haley said. "We encourage those caregivers to get additional assistance." 

Source:  Business Week (January 14, 2010)
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