Stroke risk may increase with caring for a sick spouse or experiencing violence. In a study, spouse caregivers that were stressed had a 95 percent higher risk of stroke compared to matched controls.
Lead author, Sindhu Lakkur, said, “Stroke is one of the leading causes of adult disability, so overnight someone can go from perfectly fine to having severe impairments in physical and cognitive [mental] function, and this can put a really big strain on the family.”
Chronic stress raises blood cortisol, which increases inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation contributes to hardened arteries and makes them narrow, reducing the blood flow and thus contributing to stroke.
The researchers looked at over 6,000 caregivers and non-caregivers over the age of 45. Caregivers were asked about their relationship to the patient, as well as the mental and physical strain associated with being a caregiver. Strain was perceived by either none, some or a lot. During the 8.5-year follow-up caregivers who reported moderate to high levels of stress showed a significant increase in stroke risk, compared to those who reported lower levels of stress. Lakkur added, “If you’re living with someone who requires care, it may be more stressful than going to someone’s house and caring for them once a week.”
Depression and isolation have been found to be factors as well. Family caregivers often lack support, and so Lakkur suggests that caregivers should have their health checked out as well.
Additional research is required to evaluate the long-term effects of chronic psychological stress on caregivers, financial strain, and work-related stress.
Dealing with stress of caring for a sick spouse
Caring for a loved one who is ill can be stressful in any scenario, but if the relative or spouse has disabilities and cannot care for themselves or complete simple tasks, this can be even more taxing and stressful. In order to prevent yourself from becoming ill and falling into a downward spiral, it’s important that you manage the stress that comes along with being a caregiver.
There are numerous risk factors that increase the risk of poor health in caregivers, including being female, having fewer years of formal education, social isolation, depression, financial difficulties, long hours spent caregiving, lack of coping and problem-solving skills, and lack of choice in being a caregiver.
Some signs of being a stressed caregiver include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or worried
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing weight unintentionally
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Feeling sad
- Experiencing frequent headaches or body pains for no explainable reason
- Abusing alcohol, medications, or illegal drugs
If any of the above symptoms sounds like you, then you are dealing with intense stress as a result of being a caregiver. Here are some tips you can utilize in order to better deal with stress and not put your health in jeopardy.
Find ways to reduce personal stress – recognize warning signs, identify sources of stress, identify what can and cannot be changed, and take action to resolve the issue at hand.
Set goals – get help with care-giving, get your own health checked out, take breaks from caregiving.
Find solutions – identify the problem, list solutions, ask for help, use multiple solutions if your first choice doesn’t work out.
Speak with others – discuss your feelings with friends, family, and doctors, or seek counseling.
Ask for help and accept help.
Take care of yourself – eat well and exercise.
By taking the time to work on yourself, you can ensure that you remain healthy and reduce your risk of stroke.