As most caregivers know from firsthand experience, there is a lot of stress associated with caregiving, especially when you don’t have support and resources to help you balance varied responsibilities. Researchers from the University of South Florida at Tampa and the University of Alabama at Birmingham set out to better understand the effects of this stress on those caring fora spouse, specifically whether it can lead to a higher risk of stroke and for whom. Over 700 participants in the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study who were providing in-home caregiving to a disabled spouse reported on the degree of caregiving strain they experienced, any symptoms of depression and details about their social network. Researchers then compared their levels of strain to a noted marker, the Framingham Stroke Risk Score, a calculation that estimates the projected 10-year risk of stroke based on factors such as high cholesterol and blood pressure. They found that high caregiving strain is significantly associated with higher estimated stroke risk with greatest effects for men, particularly African American men possibly because many have limited resources and shoulder the burden of caregiving for their wives on their own. Women may be at somewhat less risk by virtue of general caregiving experience. The researchers conclude that all caregivers and in particular men functioning in the role of caregiver should consider seeking out support, possibly counseling, to keep from turning stroke risk into reality.
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