Who will care for the carers?

Sharon Xiaorong Wang is a  nurse researcher at the Center of Research on Aging, Jinan, Shandong, China and is the lead investigator for the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program at the Department of Gerontology, Jinan Central Hospital.Carers

The association between chronic disease and carers of patients with dementia has been well described in the literature. Caring for patients with memory impairment can put a strain on the health [both physical and mental] of the care-giver. Up till now, the demographics and scale of chronic disease afflicting care providers have not been well explored. We have conducted a study to examine the prevalence of chronic disease in carers of patients with dementia.

Our results indicate that more than four-fifths of care-givers reported having at least one chronic disease, and nearly two-thirds reported multiple. The proportion of ailments were particularly high for older caregivers (aged 65 years and older) as well as for spouse caregivers. By age, older carers reported 2.1 chronic diseases as compared to 1.8 in carers under 65 years of age. Hypertension, depression and arthritis were the most commonly identified health problems. Our study seems to highlight age and the female gender as significant variables for chronic disease in carers. The prevalence of chronic disease was significantly higher in older carers and female spouse carers.

Our study provides a comprehensive picture of the prevalence of chronic disease in carers of dementia patients. These findings could probably be extrapolated to carers of patients with other forms of degenerative disease. There is a clear need for more research and increased awareness of the toll exacted by care-giving on family members and older carers. It is important for clinicians and other allied health professionals to focus not just on the patient but also to bear in mind the impact of care-giving on the health of the carer.

The full paper can be read on the Age and Ageing website here.

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