Caregiver Stress Can Shorten the Lives of Patients with Dementia

There’s no shortage of evidence that being a caregiver for elderly loved-ones is stressful and can often lead to a decline in the overall health and well being of those who provide care.  And for those caring for a senior with dementia, the stress levels can be off-the-charts.

But there’s more. New research has found that the unrelenting toll caring for someone with dementia takes is not only harmful to caregivers, the mental stress on those giving care can also shorten the lives of patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

A study from the University of California Berkeley followed 176 patients with neurodegenerative diseases and monitored the mental health of those who cared for them.   The patients with caregivers having poorer mental health died 12 months earlier than those with better mental health.

Although it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact relationship between an earlier patient death and caregiver stress, giving care to a relative with dementia can often lead to depression, social isolation, anxiety and lack of self-care.   In some instances, high levels of stress and frustration may lead to abuse or neglect.  And the strain on the relationship between family caregiver and loved-one may even weaken the immune system.

The number of adults living with dementia is expected to soar over the next 20 years and it is estimated that 8 million American adults will have some form of dementia by 2030.  The lion’s share of caregiving for those with dementia is done by family members who, without better community support, are facing a huge burden of physically and emotionally draining unpaid work.

Read more about the Berkeley study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by following this link.