Study Finds Caregivers Report High Rates of Depression

Millions of Americans are responsible for the care of elderly or invalid relatives. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, those caregivers are reporting high rates of depression, stress and fatigue.

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A caregiver is usually a family member who provides physical care for another family member. There are 44 million caregivers in the U.S. and close to 2 million of them are in Texas. Most are caring for an aging parent or spouse, others may care for a family member with cancer or other debilitating diseases. Sherri Snelling is the director of caregiver services with Evercare, a healthcare service provider that recently did a study of caregivers. She says they found 91 percent of respondents suffer from depression as a result of caregiving.

"The depression can, you know, start with just feeling sad about watching your loved, your parent or spouse who's getting older or suffering. But also all the way up to severe depression which can contribute to other health issues."

Caregivers are more likely to experience stress and fatigue beyond the normal range for American adults. And the study showed a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse, with many respondents saying they misuse substances as a coping mechanism. Snelling says caregivers aren't really a recognized group.

"The caregivers don't identify themselves necessarily as a caregiver. They just feel that this is part of life and they're here to take care of a parent or a spouse, but they need to recognize themselves -- that they do have a very special role that they're serving. And again, that they have special needs because of that responsibility that they have taken on."

As the baby boomer generation ages, more people will become caregivers and more people will be in need of caregivers. Snelling says medical professionals need to become more proactive in helping caregivers cope with stress and depression.

"We're asking doctors to make sure that when they get a patient in who seems to be under a little bit more stress or reports having some health issues, to ask them what their situation is and if they are a caregiver the American Medical Association actually has on their website a caregiver stress test that they can give to a caregiver to identify exactly what they're going through."

In addition to the health risks and implications, Snelling says U.S. businesses are losing $33 billion dollars a year from employee absences, many of them related to caregiving. She says caregivers should talk to a physician about maintaining good physical and mental health. Evercare conducted focus groups, telephone and online surveys of more than 500 caregivers to compile their study. A link to the study and the caregiver stress test can be found on our website, kuhf dot org.

Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...