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Stress may increase risk of dementia for caregivers

Written by Diane Archer

A Johns Hopkins University, Utah State University and Duke University study found that people caring for spouses with dementia are six times more likely to get dementia than people caring for spouses who do not have dementia. The researchers surmise that caregiver stress may increase the risk of dementia for the caregiver spouses. If so, identifying ways to ease the stress becomes all the more critical.

The caregiver study was conducted on 1,221 older married couples (2,242 people) over the course of 12 years. Researchers found increased memory loss among caregivers whose spouses had dementia. According to Maria Norton, one of the researchers, “We know that the declines in memory we saw were real and persistent, not just a point in time where they weren’t performing well on tests.”

If the cause of the increased memory loss is indeed stress related to caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, the question becomes how to alleviate that stress. As Julie Potyraj reported in Just Care, “caregivers are three times more likely to be highly vulnerable to health issues than non-caregivers. Compared to individuals who are not caring for an older adult, caregivers experience higher rates of physical illness including chronic pain and compromised immune systems.”

What are the signs of stress for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease? Denial that loved ones are losing their memories. Anger at loved ones for not being able to do what they once could do. Social isolation. Anxiety about what will happen over time and depression that makes it hard to cope. Loss of energy, inability to sleep and fatigue.

To ease stress, caregivers should have a health care buddy–a friend or family member they feel comfortable with–to talk to and support them. Caregivers should also build self-care into routines, stay connected to friends and social networks, and be active. A support group of people who share and can relate to what caregivers area going through can also be helpful.

Here’s more from Just Care:

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1 Comment

  • The study you are referencing is 6 years old. As a medical librarian, I would want to check to see if any follow-up studies have been done in order to make sure this finding still holds.

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