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?

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your

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soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Dee

    I used to see patients come in everyday with non heredity problems, but social factors such as stress, depression and even pent up rage. The factors were usually cured by a cardiologist rather than the surgical option, but there are those few rare cases where this happens.

    April 7, 2008 at 20:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. chris perez

    I too, have undergone a great deal of caregiver stress. My mother n law lives with us, she is 76 with advanced alzheimers. My grandmother passed away after I cared for her for 1 year at 85. My other grandparents live 2 streets away and require a great deal of help, but refuse to allow anyone to help them. My dad just turned 65 and dementia is rapidly progressing. I have found that the best way to get away from it all is by going to work. Really, no kidding. By the way, I am also a nurse, and wouldn't trade one memory for a moment of relaxation. I honestly feel that if I stop caring for people I wont be happy. Maybe I am just crazy. chris

    April 7, 2008 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Elaine

    I have another type of stress related to taking care of my 50 year old husband. He is losing the ability to walk and is receiving no treatment for his Multiple Sclerosis. We have great health insurance but the specialists are waiting till he has nine brain lesions before they will offer him drugs for the MS.

    The stress of watching him deteriorate and not be able to walk while the doctors have not treated him is a stress I never thought I would have to face. And I am a nurse so I know his disease and what lies ahead. But the stress of him not getting treatment is very hard...Elaine

    April 8, 2008 at 11:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Darlene Floyd

    My Mother was given a stroke in Aug of last year, during a presugerical proceedure. My sister is her main caregiver, I have noticed a change in her ever since. She was always the calm one, now the smallest things upset her. I live 2hrs away and give relief as often as I can, but it is never enough. I feel so sorry for them both. It is ordeal just to bath her. I have tried to seek legal help, but have been told several times, that if my mother hadn't signed the consent forms we would have a case. WHAT!!!!!! We weren't aware you had a choice, if you don't then they don't do surgery. I know this is off the subject, but it is still the same. If we could get help for my sister, her stress would be less. Why is it OK for a Dr. you intrust you loved one too, to make a life changing mistake, and not be responsible for it, at least to a degree. We do not want to become rich, because if we had our way, she would live the rest of her life on her small SS check and be happy. Now she can not live on her own, she cannot drive, and her mental state is not the same. We lost our Father last July with bone cancer, and we both feel we lost our Mother in Aug., to a degree. Please don't get me wrong, we know that Dr., nurses and other people in the medical field make mistakes. They are part of life, but if my child hits another child he has to realize there are other ways to deal with the problem. You see, after the fact, we learned that a simple sonagram could have stopped what happpened to our Mother.


    April 8, 2008 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mary M

    Caregivers at Risk.

    I can relate to this story because my father has cancer really bad. The major burden has been on my mom. I'm already losing one parent and I'm afraid this has affected my moms health as well. It is very hard day to day watching a parent wither away to nothing. Cancer Sucks!!

    April 8, 2008 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. cindy

    In August of 2007, my mom went in for aorta valve replacement. In the process of placing the central line, the carotid artery was cut, this caused plaque to break off and give her a frontal lobe stroke, leaving her paralyzed on the left side of her body and a short term memory loss, She also has lost the ability to not act on impulses, she lost her brakes so to speak. In December of 2007 after extensive physical therapy, she fell and broke her paralyzed hip. It has taken a toll on not only me, but also my husband and children. She is staying with us now, I don't feel she will ever be able to return to her on home, which is another stress causing factor, because that is all she wants to do. After losing my father in July after years of battling cancer,she just wants to be home with their things. Stress has affected us all. My children's grades have dropped, they are angry, and just want to sleep it away, so they don't have to deal. I have been affected by stress, where every muscle in my body aches, I am sleep deprived, and an emotional rollercoaster. All of this took place just three weeks after buring my father, which brought it's on amount of stress for we along with my sister took care of him for the last six months of his life. He was in t he hospital but my sister never left his side and helped bathe, feed, and dress his wounds. The techs only had to assist and the nurses really only had to give him his meds. My sister lives two hours away and helps when she can, which causes its on stress, because she has a job and a family there, but feels she needs to be here more.

    April 8, 2008 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dave

    My wife and I take care of my 82 yr old Dad. My wife takes her Dad to dialysis 3 days a week and takes her Mother and sister also to dr appointments. Her Dad just had a heart attack and my Dad had some problems also. I have a full time job and we are stressed to the max. We take my Dad to Daycare while we are at work but when we get off work we are here at home at work again.

    April 8, 2008 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. patty

    I cared for my father for 11 years while he died from dementia. It was 11 years in hell. I treat my dogs better than dementia patients are treated. My father used up his last braincell begging me to kill him and spare him the indignities he knew were coming. I lost 11 years of my life to this. My best advice to anyone in this situation is when the patient no longer knows who they are or who you are, it's time to turn over the care to someone else. Your loved one will no longer know the difference.

    Problems like this stress an average family to the breaking point. It would be much different if the family had funds for 24/7 caregivers and attendants. There isn't enough time to do it all and everyone suffers. At times, I would have sold a kidney for an afternoon off just to go to the grocery store or get caught up on laundry.

    April 9, 2008 at 03:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Derik

    I am using this article fo a school assigment any tips of how to relieve the stress.i would really like to know!!!!!

    April 9, 2008 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Martha

    My mother cared for my father for 17 years after he suffered an aneurism in his aorta. He was left paralyzed from his third-rib down and on top of that he had been blind since he was 13 from a genetic defect. My mom was only 48 when all this happened. She also worked full-time as a second-grade school teacher and had 2 teenagers. Dad has been dead for 15 years now and when I think back over the years she cared for him, the thing that stands out in my mind is that she never complained. Yes, she might complain that the medicine got screwed up or the wheel chair broke but she never complained about his condition. She was and is a true saint.

    April 9, 2008 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Beth

    I think it depends on how the caregiver looks at the situation .. I took care of my Mother who was a mean drunk for many years then altimezers (sp) heart bypass , diabetic and the list of what all was wrong goes on and on but some how i knew this was all i had left of my Mom , my only chance to love her , she was 100% bed ridden for the last year and lifting her in and out of a wheel chair and into a car to the doctors office and back all over again was back breaking to say the least , before she was 100% bedridden id take showers with her and that was hard , hell everything about it was hard and id never in my life known that a human could even be alive and breathing and in such pain , truly the most nightmarish slow death my Mom lived through ..one evening however while sitting at her bedside eating my dinner as i always fed her her dinner and we ate together she just stopped breathing , a huge piece of me died that evening and it was stressful every single day ! But the way i see it my Mom gave me life , true she was a drunk and a mean one at that but she did the best she could for me , i also took care of my father in law and step mother in law , they were a cake walk compared to my Mom with altizermes(sp) but the way to look at it is this : It Is Not A Burden To Take Care Of Our Own Parents Yet A Privilege ! ! ! a labor of love if you will ...someday i will be old and i will need help and i pray my children will not find me to be a embarrassment or a burden ..

    April 9, 2008 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. corlette garnes

    I too share with persons who assist sick persons. It is not easy. But what I do is make sure that I take a rest on evenings before dealing with my mon (alzheimers). Bathing her was a problem. But you have to work out a plan to handle the various situations.

    I am better at dealing with her now since she is not walking but all in all it is very stressful taking care of her. I am a christian and am ably assisted by my daily walk with God. So hang in there everyone.

    April 9, 2008 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Missy

    It's so much easier if you have siblings and a spouse to help you. It's much more difficult if you are an only child like I am who is not married. Luckily my mother is healthy but the thought does cross my mind. I would financially not be able to do it since I am the sole provider. If I had to stay with my mother 24/7, how could I work to pay the rent, utilities, food, etc? My parents both agree that once they were incapable of taking care of themselves, it's time to move on. My mother took care of my father for 4 months before he passed away from cancer. He refused any treatment to resuscitate him if he was to go unconscious. Forget the idea of being a burden – it just wasn't a life to him to not be able to do the things he use to do. Unfortunately assisted suicide is looked down upon but I for one would want it if I became incompacitated.

    April 9, 2008 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Brenda

    I have a family member that is suspected of have CJD or vCJD. Since this is so rare and fatal, I was hoping that Dr. Gupta would be willing to take a couple of minutes to address this topic as we are not getting many answers or information. As caregivers, this is extremely stressful.

    April 16, 2008 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Warfa

    i am a diabetic 2. i drink about two cups of coffee a day. is the coffee worsening my condition?

    July 1, 2008 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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