Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Caring for the Caregivers
Coping with the physical and emotional strain of caregiving.
In my practice of cardiology, I take care of many elderly men and women. As they age, the spouse often becomes responsible for his or her partner’s day to day well-being. The strain of this unending, often emotionally wrenching, and physically burdensome care can take a serious toll.
About 80 percent of caregivers are women, although many men also take on this role. In a study published in the January 14, 2010 edition of the medical journal Stroke, those who experienced the greatest amount of stress and strain were nearly 25 percent more likely to suffer a stroke while caring for a loved one, compared to those who did not experience much stress at all. African American men caring for their disabled wives appeared to be at greatest risk.
A 2003 Harvard study of women caring for their ill spouses found an 82 percent greater risk for heart disease when the amount of time devoted to care was nine or more hours weekly. Other studies suggest that tending to a spouse with dementia is especially hard on the heart.
What to do if you find yourself or your parents in this situation? I always advise my patients to consider home health care. Having a medical assistant to help with tasks such as bathing can be an enormous relief for everyone. I find that many spouses resist the help, considering it a personal failure if they are unable to do the work themselves. Sadly, they are often the ones that pay the price.
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