Caregivers of Family Members. Studies show that caregivers of physically or mentally disabled family members are at risk for chronic stress. Spouses caring for a disabled partner are particularly vulnerable to a range of stress-related health threats including influenza, Depression, Heart disease, and even poorer survival rates. Caring for a spouse with even minor disabilities can induce severe stress. (Intervention programs that are aimed at helping the caregiver approach the situation positively can be very helpful at reducing stress and helping the caregiver maintain a positive attitude.) Wives experience significantly greater stress from caregiving than husbands, and, according to a 2000 study, tend to feel more negative about their husbands than caregiving husbands feel about their wives.
Specific risk factors that put caregivers at higher risk for severe stress or stress-related illnesses include the following:
- Having a low income.
- Being African American. African Americans tend to be in poorer physical health than Caucasians and so face greater stress as caregivers to their spouses than their Caucasian counterparts.)
- Living alone with the patient.
- Helping a highly dependent patient.
- Having a difficult relationship with the patient.
Health Professional Caregivers. Caregiving among the health professionals is also a high risk factor for stress. One 2000 study, for example, found that registered nurses with low job control, high job demands, and low work-related social support experienced very dramatic health declines, both physically and emotionally.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD