Caregivers: Take Care of Yourself, Too

Cardiovascular patient caregivers are at high risk for unhealthy lifestyles

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Caregiving is tough on healthy lifestyle maintenance. Blood relative caregivers to cardiovascular disease patients must take extra care with a heart-healthy lifestyle.

A recent study followed up with 423 caregivers of cardiovascular disease patients one year after a hospitalization. Responses to the survey questions showed caregivers who felt strain were less likely to eat a heart-healthy diet and get enough sleep and exercise.

Study authors suggested interventions to help caregivers develop schedules and techniques to promote heart-healthy lifestyle practices.

"Caregivers, ask for help."

Lori Mosca, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Director of Preventive Cardiology, and Heidi Mochari-Greenberger, PhD, MPH, postdoctoral research fellow, in the Department of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, worked together to investigate caregiver cardiovascular health.

Dr. Mosca said, “Our research shows that the potential increased risk posed by caregivers may be associated with lifestyle habits such as poor diet and decreased physical activity. And those with the highest level of strain from caregiving were at higher risk.”

For the study, 423 family members of hospitalized cardiovascular disease (CVD) patients were surveyed at the start of the study and again one year later.

Survey questions asked about heart-healthy diet, low in saturated fats, physical activity and caregiver burdens.

Caregiver burden questions focused on employment, financial, physical, social, time and strain.

Caregivers, whose reports said they felt overwhelmed, also reported less heart-healthy diets, and more burdens, such as sleep disturbances, financial strain, upsetting patient behavior and time demands.

Reports of less frequent physical activity were more common in caregivers who also reported financial strain or upsetting patient behavior.

The most common caregiver burdens reported:

  • 39 percent said changes in personal plans
  • 38 percent said time demands
  • 30 percent said sleep disturbances

Richard Birkel, PhD, senior vice president for health at the National Council on Aging in Washington, DC, said, “Caregivers need to ask for help, take time for personal activities like exercise and relaxation, maintain a good diet and do two things not mentioned in the study—don’t smoke and keep alcohol intake moderate.”

If caregivers are genetically related to the CVD patients they are looking after, they are at risk for developing CVD themselves.

Authors recommended starting off caregiving with a plan to incorporate health diet and exercise, positive coping and destressing techniques.

This study was published in November in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

No financial information was given. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 7, 2012
Last Updated:
February 21, 2013