Stress of Caring for Disabled Spouse Raises Stroke Threat

Researchers followed nearly 800 individuals who were caring for a spouse with any disabling condition.  According to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, some 32.5 million Americans have a severe disability, representing about 12 percent of the population. 

Those spouses who had the highest scores for strain had the highest risk scores for stroke. Strain was measured on a standard score by asking the participants how many days during the past week they had felt depressed, lonely, sad or had crying spells. The answers were matched to the Framingham Stroke Risk Score, which measures risk factors such as age, blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, smoking and diabetes. 

A high score on the measure of strain was associated with an overall 23 percent higher risk of stroke. The association was stronger in husbands than in wives. It was highest in black men with high caregiving strain, with a 26.9 percent increased risk of stroke in the next 10 years. 

The researchers noted that for the most part, when men are caregivers they use more paid services.  Women are more prepared to be caregivers, and show less risk tied to strain.  

Another study from Sweden found that only half to three-quarters of people who survived strokes were still taking recommended drugs to prevent a new stroke two years later.   The study of more than 21,000 stroke survivors, average age 75, found that two years later, 26 percent had stopped taking drugs to control high blood pressure, 44 percent had stopped taking cholesterol-lowering statins, 36 percent had stopped taking clot-preventing medications and 55 percent were not taking the blood thinner warfarin.

The study is published in the online edition of Stroke.

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