Stress in Caregivers
Linda J Kerley
James M Turnbull
You don't get ulcers from what you eat, you get
them from what is eating you.
Stress has been defined in a number of ways. Hans Selye, probably the most famous writer on the subject, referred to stress as a physiological state that results when an organism is influenced by a stressor. Stressors include both physical stimuli (e.g., noise, heat, cold, pain) and psychosocial stimuli (e.g., death of a relative, moving into a nursing home, changing jobs).
Human response to stressors is mediated, or influenced for good or ill, by personality, coping skills, and awareness of what is happening (insight). Thus the stress of the job of caring for a patient with Alzheimer's disease is influenced by a variety of factors.
Of the over 4 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, 70% live at home. They are cared for by loved ones and friends of the family. Additionally, families pay an average of $12,500 to hire outside help, usually from home health agencies, on an annual basis. The burden of this caregiving disproportionately falls on women—wives, daughters, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters. Caregivers, most of whom are middle-aged women, are at high risk for becoming secondary victims of the illness. They may concurrently have responsibility for their own children, work outside the home, be pursuing a career, or be in college. Caring for a relative with dementia leaves little time or energy for self-care. Thus the demands of the job may cause caregivers to neglect exercise, nutrition, socialization, and even sleep.