When someone suffers a stroke, the patient isn’t the only person at risk of life-threatening complications during recovery. New research shows people who care for stroke survivors are also at risk – for developing depression and cardiovascular complications from chronic stress.
The study, by researchers at the Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, found stroke patients’ family members and other caregivers are far more likely to experience higher stress levels, poorer sleep quality, depression and other health conditions.
The findings, published in the latest issue of Biological Research for Nursing, suggest doctors of stroke patients should work to assist caregivers in identifying their needs and referring them to appropriate resources related to assistance with care, transportation, nutrition and ongoing education.
"Stroke survivors can suffer significant and lasting disabilities that may require lifelong support from family and other caregivers," said lead researcher Karen Saban with Loyola’s Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. "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.
Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Family Caregiver Association estimates 80 percent of stroke survivors are cared for by family members who help them manage such resulting conditions as paralysis, personality changes, incontinence and speech difficulties.
The new study tracked 45 women who were caring for a family member who had had a stroke. They were surveyed about stress, the burden of care, social support, quality of sleep and depressive symptoms. They also provided saliva samples so researchers could test for the stress-related hormone cortisol.
Results revealed the women provided more than 50 hours of care per week, on average, had high levels of stress and poor sleep. They also had significant feelings of being over-burdened by financial strains, home confinement, changes in the relationship with the patient, demands of care, and having little personal time for oneself.
"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."