April 7th, 2008
01:05 PM ET

Caregivers at risk

By Yvonne Lee
CNN Medical Producer

My grandmother moved in with us when I was 13 years old, after a stroke left half her body paralyzed. She had been overweight for as long as I can remember, and had diabetes along with high cholesterol. With all these risk factors, it was a just a matter of time before she had a cardiovascular event.

I didn't realize that taking care of her would become such a burden to my parents. Just giving her a bath was an ordeal. She would shuffle and drag her left leg along the floor while grabbing the wall to get to the stairs. My parents would hold her arms and practically carry her up the steps to the bathroom.

"It was real hell," my mom said. "She could not control her body, and she's heavier than me."

Recently, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health  found that family members caring for cardiac patients had higher levels of risk factors for heart disease and were three to four times more likely to be depressed than those who provided little or no care. This adds to growing evidence that stress and depression may play an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.

Family members make up 50 percent of those who provide primary care for these patients. My grandmother stayed with my parents for 15 years, with my grandfather moving in a few years after she did. It wasn’t something they could take a vacation from. My parents fixed her meals, massaged her limbs, made sure she exercised, and administered her medications.
"I lost weight while I was taking of her. I got frequent headaches.  I had anxiety all the time.  I couldn't invite my friends to my house because you don't know what Grandma is going to do," my mom  said.

I wonder if my parents would have benefited from knowing how to reduce the potential toll that care giving was having on their health.

Is your health being affected by caring for a family member?

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