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Caregiver Stress:  Causes and Treatment

Lee Willis, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist, Southern California Alzheimer's Disease Diagnostic 
	and Treatment Center

Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center

Shirle Gottlieb

Caregiver and Theater Critic


Caregiver Stress and Health 

Willis: The following is a brief synopsis of research recently
conducted at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center. It is not a
transcription of my presentation at the workshop. As a resource I have
included an extensive bibliography on caregiving.

Caring for a physically disabled spouse or other relative can be
physically and emotionally stressful, placing the caregiver at
heightened risk of illness and chronic disease onset.  Although an
abundance of research has focused on the adverse emotional and social
effects of caregiving, there have been few studies of the physical
health consequences for this group. The purpose of the study being
reported was to investigate (1) health consequences of caregiving, and
(2) relationships between physical health and psycho-social
characteristics of caregivers.

Our sample included 24 primary caregivers (CG) and 31 non-caregivers
(NCG) ranging from 55 to 78 years of age. All participants received
complete physical examinations, including evaluation of
cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, sensory, and
neurological systems. Combined, these physical health measures
produced a continuous morbidity (or illness) scale with 110 individual
variables. Where appropriate, individual morbidity scores were
adjusted for age and gender. Participants also completed scales
evaluating personality, social support, locus of control, perceived
stress, psychological distress, and problem behaviors of the disabled

Analysis of the resulting data showed no significant differences
between caregivers and non-caregivers in terms of age, education, or
gender. There were, however, significant differences in morbidity,
with caregivers demonstrating greater incidence of illness. For
example, caregivers had higher blood pressure and more acute health

Caregivers also reported significantly more psycho-social problems
including psychological distress, inadequate social attachments, and
health perceived not to be in their own control, as well as more
behavioral problems attributed to the disabled spouse.

The best predictors, accounting for up to 69% of the differences
between caregivers and non-caregivers, were: their total illness
score, the number and severity of daily hassles they experienced,
their perception that their health was not in their own control, and
their having a dependent personality style.

The results of this study offer evidence that in providing primary
care for a disabled spouse, a person encounters a potential risk to
his or her own physical health. The effect is detectable on routine
physical examination, not requiring expensive and intrusive
procedures. Elevated blood pressure was a particularly salient feature
for caregivers.



Beach Center on Families and Disability, University of Kansas, 3111
Hayworth Hall, Lawrence, KS 66045. (913) 864-7600.

The Family Survival Project, 425 Bush Street, Suite 500, San
Francisco, CA 94108. (415) 434-3388.


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