Dementia Caregivers Prone to Poor Health

Dementia patients at risk for health problems

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Caregivers of dementia patients may be spending so much time focusing on loved ones that they are left with little time to manage their own lives. This heightened stress may be putting their health at risk.

In addition to stress, caregivers may be impacted by agitation or restlessness exhibited by their loved ones with mild cognitive impairment.

"Try yoga or relaxation breathing to lower the stress of care giving."

Tina Savla, lead author and assistant professor of human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, said that providing support to a relative with cognitive difficulties requires significant changes to everyday roles and responsibilities. She noted that these changes can take a toll on family relationships, psychological health and physical health.

Savla said that assisting someone with mild cognitive impairment daily allows the body little time to recover and can tax the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system, a major system maintaining body stability by regulating the neuroendocrine and sympathetic nervous systems, and modulating immune function. She said that in dementia caregivers dysfunctional regulation of the system can contribute to illnesses by distressing cardiovascular, metabolic and immune functions.

During the study researchers called 30 spouse care partners on seven consecutive days to ask how they had spent their time on those days, their mood and behavior and their level of interaction with their spouse and other family members. Saliva samples also were collected on four consecutive days to measure levels of cortisol, a hormone that manages stress.

They found that when the behavior problems of the person they were caring for escalated, usually during the late afternoon or early evening, caregivers cut back on their own scheduled chores, leaving them frustrated and distressed. They also tended to experience negative interactions with their partners during that period.

The saliva samples showed elevated levels of cortisol throughout the day with a slower rate of decline, suggesting caregivers may be at a greater risk of developing physical health problems.

Savla said that helping caregivers learn effective stress management techniques early on could be beneficial to their emotional and physical health, and also could enhance their care giving.

The research was published in the November Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

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Review Date: 
November 28, 2011
Last Updated:
November 28, 2011