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Carers face 'overwhelming stress'
[Posted: Sun 25/04/2010 by Deborah Condon www.irishhealth.com]
Family members who provide care to relatives with dementia, but who have no formal training, frequently experience overwhelming stress which can lead to breakdowns or depression, the results of a new study indicate.
US researchers followed the progress of 67 caregivers. Specifically, they studied the 15 most common stressors for carers, including financial strain, the behaviour of the patient, the amount of help available from family and friends and time demands.
They found that people experience radically different types and amounts of stress, depending on the situation.
"Behavior issues are a common stressor, but caregivers don't always report that their family member has these issues. Some people feel more strain from the sense that they've lost a relationship with their family member, or because of conflict with siblings or other relatives. It's different for everyone,” explained lead researcher, Prof Steven Zarit of Pennsylvania State University.
He noted that while most people who take on this job do it for five to seven years, some carers take on the role for 15-20 years.
Prof Zarit said that a common approach to help carers is by teaching them specific coping skills for stressors, however this may not work if it targets only one stressor. For example, an intervention might focus on behaviors of dementia by explaining why certain behaviors occur and how carers can change those behaviors. This intervention is expected to improve stress levels after the dementia patient changes behaviors.
However, it will only help carers who are troubled by behaviors of dementia. According to the study, people experience a wide variety of stressors, therefore a person coping with behavior problems may also have other difficulties not targeted by this single-stressor intervention.
"The majority of caregivers are living at home, with little or no help. The family has to pay the physical, emotional and financial cost of the caring, which can be staggering. When the caregiver gets overwhelmed, it raises the probability of a breakdown in the care situation,” Prof Zarit explained.
He added that because stress profiles vary so widely, it is unclear when a particular stressor will become too much for a person to handle.
However he insisted that there are options to help carers who are stressed. His past research has found that family meetings, which enlist the support of the extended family, can improve the carer’s wellbeing.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Aging & Mental Health.
For more information on dementia, see our Alzheimer Clinic here
For more information on depression, see our Depression Clinic here
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