Research from the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests spouses of stroke survivors suffer an increased risk of mental and physical health issues, which can span over many years.
Researchers looked at individuals in their mid-sixties who had survived a stroke (248 survivors) along with their spouse prior to stroke onset, and then compared the results with 245 non-stroke controls for seven years post-stroke.
At the end of the seven years, 16.5 percent of survivors had endured another stroke. Spouses of survivors reported lower scores related to mental and physical health within the first year after the stroke and even for many years to follow.
The largest impacts on the spouse were based on the stroke survivor’s disability, cognitive function and symptoms of depression.
Study author Josefine Persson said, “It is known that spouses of older stroke patients experience health-related physical and mental issues, and that the degree of their problems is associated with the severity of the stroke, but ours is the first long-term study of seven years follow up to explore this in a younger group of people.”
Researchers recognized that being a caregiver for a stroke survivor can be demanding and difficult, especially if they must also juggle childcare and work. Persson added, “Caring for a spouse after a stroke can be demanding and can reduce a husband or wife’s time spent at their occupation, which also can be a burden for many younger families, and the underlying problems can continue several years.”
The findings raise awareness that policy makers need to offer greater support to these caregivers in order to ensure their health does not decline.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in America but the leading cause of long-term disability. Annually, roughly 795,000 Americans suffer from stroke, and nearly three-quarters of strokes occur in individuals over the age of 65.
The findings were published in the journal Stroke.