Spouses of stroke survivors at risk, study finds

Spouses of stroke survivors at risk, study finds

Over 795,000 people in the U.S. have had a stroke in the past year, according to the American Heart Association, and the lingering health effects can affect more than just the stroke survivor.

Spouses of stroke survivors that are caregivers are at an increased risk of mental and physical health issues that may continue for years, researchers said. The study was done by the American Heart Association and published in the journal Stroke.

Swedish researchers evaluated 248 stroke survivors below the age of 70 and their spouses. The findings were compared with the results of 245 non-stroke patients used as the control group.

At the seven-year follow-up, spouses of survivors reported lower scores in several mental and physical areas, including factors like less vitality, reduced social function and other health issues that were affecting their lives. The report showed that their declining health issues started the first year after their spouse’s stroke and continued throughout care giving.

“Our results…highlight the impact on the spouses’ mental health due to demanding changes in the life situations of these families, not only during the first years after stroke onset but also in the long term,” study author Josefine Persson said in a press release.

Caregivers’ quality of life was most adversely affected by their spouses’ level of disability, cognitive difficulties and depressive symptoms.

Experts says they have seen the strain it can take on a caregiver’s health when they are caring for someone else and pushing aside their own needs.

“The stress on spouses and family members who care for persons with severe health issues can be significant,” says Dr. Kevin Krippner, licensed clinical psychologist with Advocate Medical Group and Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “Oftentimes the focus is on the person with the medical issue, and the toll it takes on the caregiver is overlooked.”

Dr. Krippner says it is very important for these caregivers to spend some time focusing on their own self-care and not just the care of their loved one.

“Caregivers should set aside some time for themselves, even if it is not a large amount of time, he says. “One of the best things to do can be for caregivers to reach out to their own support system for help with the person who needs assistance, or for some time away from the person they are caring for in order to recharge their mental or physical energy.”

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About the Author

Lynn Hutley
Lynn Hutley

Lynn Hutley, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs and marketing at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital in central Illinois. Having grown up in a family-owned drug store, it is no surprise that Lynn has spent almost 18 years working in the health care industry. She has a degree in human resources management from Illinois State University and is always ready to tackle Trivia Night.