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Caregivers of Stroke Victims at Risk for Depression

Update Date: Jul 20, 2012 04:54 PM EDT

According to researchers from the Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, caregivers of stroke survivors are at risk for developing depression and complications from chronic stress. 

Lead researcher Karen Saban said the findings are important. 

"Stroke survivors can suffer significant and lasting disabilities that may require lifelong support from family and other caregivers," Saban said. "Many families struggle to provide 24-hour care for their loved ones. This burden places the caregivers at risk for depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances, which can harm quality of life and heighten their risk for other health problems.

Researchers evaluated 45 women who were caring for a family member who had experienced a stroke during the past year. The average ages of the women was about 56 years old and they provided an average of about 51 hours of care each week.  and the average hours of care they provided was 50.7 hours per week. The women were asked about perceived stress, caregiver burden, social support, quality of sleep and depressive symptoms. 

They were also tested for a stress-related hormone, cortisol, four times throughout the day for two days.

Results revealed that women had high levels of perceived stress and caregiver burden and poor quality of sleep and that the burden of caring for a stroke victim increases the risk of depressive symptoms and stress. This burden can include financial strain, home confinement, changes in the relationship with the care recipient, noncompliance of the stroke survivor, demands of caring for the stroke victim and having little personal time for oneself. 

Researchers say the care givers who had high symptoms of depression also had decreasing levels of the stress-related hormone during the day while women with fewer symptoms of depression had higher levels. Lower levels of cortisol may contribute to an increased risk of depression.

The study is published in the latest issue of Biological Research for Nursing.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is one of the leading causes of long-term disability, according to the  The National Family Caregiver Association reports that up to 80 percent of stroke survivors are cared for by family members who help them manage their physical and cognitive dysfunction, which can include paralysis, personality changes, urinary incontinence and speech difficulties.

The study also found that health-care providers can assist caregivers in identifying their needs and referring them to appropriate resources related to assistance with care, transportation, nutrition and ongoing education.

"This was one of the first studies to look at the unique needs of women caring for stroke survivors," Saban said. "Recognizing the challenges of these caregivers may help health-care professionals better support these women."

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