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Health Impacts of Being a Caregiver

By May 16, 2016Commentary

As the population ages and technology makes it possible for more people to receive care in their homes, which tends to be the least expensive setting, more and more of us are taking on caregiving duties.  Past research has shown that being a caregiver can have a negative effect on the caregiver’s health.  The New England Journal of Medicine carries research looking at the impact of caring for a patient with a critical illness.   (NEJM Article)   This impact is financial and social as well as health-related.  The authors examined discharges from certain Canadian hospitals for the period 2007 to 2014.  The cases all involved critical illnesses and a fair amount of informal caregiving.  The caregivers responded to surveys and to instruments designed to evaluate their mental and physical health.   Various caregiver and patient characteristics were also gathered.  A high percentage of the caregivers had elevated depression scale scores and for some these scores worsened the longer they were a caregiver.  Patient characteristics appeared unassociated with caregiver outcomes.  Younger caregivers were more prone to worsening mental health, as were those who had less social support, lower income and whose caregiving interfered more with other life activities.  Caregivers were particularly apt to feel less in control of their lives.  The research suggests that careful consideration needs to be given to the negative impacts of being a caregiver and caregiver mental health should be monitored regularly.

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