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Study: Stroke caregivers happier if older, maintain hobbies

Saturday April 5, 2014
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Stroke caregivers are happier when they continue to enjoy their own hobbies and interests, according to new research.

Researchers used several questionnaires to assess well-being after one year among 399 family members caring for a loved one who survived a stroke. They found 69% of the caregivers were women, and 70% of male or female caregivers were married to the person for whom they were caring.

At the two-year follow-up, 80 of the caregivers completed the questionnaires again, and most of their answers similar to those at the end of one year.

The findings were published March 20 on the website of the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

Researchers found the happiest caregivers were also:

• Older (average age 58) and in better physical health.

• Maintaining their own hobbies and activities.

• Providing higher levels of assistance to stroke survivors.

• Caring for someone with less cognitive impairment, memory problems or depression.

“I was most surprised that caregivers were happier when caring for a family member who survived a more severe stroke,” lead author Jill Cameron, PhD, MEd, BScOT, said in a news release. Cameron is an associate professor in occupational science and occupational therapy in the graduate department of rehabilitation science at the University of Toronto.

“But when a stroke is labeled mild, expectations are high and the issues are more subtle,” she said in the release. “That can cause more frustration because survivors of a mild stroke still have problems.”

Because stroke is a sudden event, survivors often can be home from the hospital just days or weeks after, giving the family caregiver very little time to prepare.

“That might be one reason older caregivers are the most content,” Cameron said in the release. “They’re more likely to be retired and less likely to have to juggle responsibilities of a job and children along with providing poststroke care.”

Depression, cognitive issues and memory problems had a negative effect on the well-being of the caregiver. That may be because health systems tend to offer more resources to help caregivers handle physical disability than problems with thinking, memory, behavior and mood, Cameron said.

The caregiver’s attitude also affects happiness. If caregivers feel they can handle taking care of their family members and that they will grow from the experience, and they continue to take part in activities that interest them, they are happier, she said.

Researchers said learning which factors led to more content caregivers will allow the healthcare system to make adjustments to better support stroke survivors and their families.

“If the family is doing better, that helps the patient do better,” Cameron said in the release.

The study included only those caring for stroke survivors who came home from the hospital after their first stroke, not survivors who were sent to nursing facilities.

The Canadian Stroke Network, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Canadian Institutes of Health Research New Investigator Award funded the study.

Study (PDF): https://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/early/2014/03/20/STROKEAHA.113.004309.full.pdf

To see what else is trending in Stroke, visit www.Nurse.com/Stroke.


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