Second opinion: Needing care too – caregiver syndrome

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By Dr. Murray Feingold/ Daily News Correspondent
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Eight years ago I first wrote about the caregiver syndrome. Since then, I have discussed this subject many times and with each new article another symptom is reported to be associated with it.

The initial reports discussed the caregiver as having depression, anxiety, fatigue, and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Various physical problems are also present such as high blood pressure, heart disease and blood clotting disorders.

A very recent article presents even more disturbing news.

The records of a half a million couples over the age of 65 were studied and it was found that after a mate was hospitalized and required spousal care, there was a significant increase in the death rate of the caregiver spouse.

The risk for dying was greatest during the first few months of the spouse’s hospitalization. It then decreased for about nine months, and subsequently rose again.

Researchers concluded that this was due to all of the stress and changes taking place in the caregiver’s life.

They become socially isolated, particularly if they don’t have a good support system. Economic factors may also play a role.

Many of the caregivers have their own medical problems and frequently these issues are not taken care of. They forget to take their medications and frequently miss their doctors appointments. The caregiver may also not eat a proper diet resulting in poor nutrition.

The more care needed for their spouse or family member, the greater the risk to the caregiver.

Caring for a spouse with a fractured hip or Alzheimer’s disease required more effort than caring for someone with certain types of a cancer.

In the eight years that I have been writing about this subject, some changes have been instituted to ease the burden of the caregiver. However, looking at the big picture, essentially little has been done.

This syndrome has blossomed into an epidemic. If it was an infectious disease epidemic, the government would have rallied all of its forces to combat it.

Not so for the caregiver syndrome. Much more needs to be done to combat this disorder and the time to do it was yesterday.

Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of CBS4 TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.

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