Caregiver Stress and Cardiovascular Health

One of many recent scientific studies documenting the negative effects of stress on physical health and longevity.

Mausbach, B. T., Chattillion, E., Roepke, S. K., Ziegler, M. G., Milic, M., von Känel, R., Dimsdale, J. E., Mills, P. J., Patterson, T. L., Allison, M. A.; Ancoli-Israel, S., & Grant, I. (2012). A longitudinal analysis of the relations among stress, depressive symptoms, leisure satisfaction, and endothelial function in caregivers. Health Psychology, 31(4), 433-440.

Summary

Caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease face numerous stressors and challenges. One hundred sixteen caregivers were assessed three times at yearly intervals regarding stress, depressive symptoms, leisure satisfaction and endothelial function (measured by brachial artery flow-mediated dilation, or FMD).

Time and the number of years of caregiving were significant predictors of FMD, suggesting that FMD was worse the longer a participant was a caregiver (including prior to the start of the study). Additionally, increased FMD function was positively related to leisure satisfaction but negatively related to stress whereas depressive symptoms were not associated with FMD.

Practical Implications

FMD is one indication of cardiovascular health yet also shows associations to stress and psychosocial functioning. Supporting caregivers in their role and facilitating their ability to care for their own health is beneficial for both caregiver and care recipient. Interventions that help caregivers increase pleasurable activities and positive relationships (some of the behavioral correlates of depression) may not only reduce stress but might also improve cardiovascular outcomes in caregivers.

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