“As the American population ages, the number of family caregivers is expected to increase. Consequently, understanding the effects family caregiving has on the cardiovascular health of caregivers presents an important public health concern. Previous studies have observed associations between family caregiving and adverse cardiovascular health outcomes, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, and an increased Framingham Stroke Risk Score. However, the association between family caregiving and stroke risk is poorly understood,” observes Dr. Sindhu Lakkur, postdoctoral fellow in the department of biostatistics, section on statistical genetics, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in the recent study “Family Caregiving Is Associated with Increased Stroke Risk among Strained Spouse Caregivers.” “We examined the association between family caregiving and risk of incident stroke in the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study to test the hypotheses that family caregivers have higher risk of stroke compared with noncaregivers and that strained caregivers have higher risk of stroke compared with noncaregivers.”
Using REGARDS data from 2003–2007, Dr. Lakkur and colleagues classified black and white enrollees, aged 45 and older, as caregivers if they were at the present time providing ongoing care to family members due to chronic illness or disability. Noting the relationship between each caregiver and care recipient, the researchers asked the caregivers to rate the level of perceived physical as well as mental strain associated with such care. Data for 3,055 caregivers was then matched with an equal number of noncaregivers, based on 16 factors, including demographics, lifestyle, and risk for stroke.
Dr. Lakkur says results indicate that “during an average 8.5-year follow-up period, 114 caregivers (3.73 percent) and 112 matched noncaregivers (3.67 percent) had an incident stroke. Caregivers did not have a higher risk of stroke compared with non-caregivers (hazard rate [HR]=1.006, 95 percent confidence intervals [CI]=0.775, 1.306). The HRs (95 percent CIs) for incident stroke risk were 1.427 (0.938, 2.171) for caregivers reporting no caregiving strain, 0.918 (0.628, 1.341) for moderate strain, and 1.963 (0.977, 3.946) for high strain. Strained spouse caregivers who reported high or moderate strain had a 95 percent higher risk of stroke than matched noncaregivers (HR=1.958, 95 percent CI=1.002, 3.828).”
Conclusions derived from the study are that an increased risk of stroke is associated with being a strained spouse caregiver, although further research is needed to determine the nuanced effects that such caregiving has on cardiovascular health. The results of the study were presented at the American Heart Association Epidemiology and Lifestyle Meeting on March 4, in Phoenix.
Co-investigators are Dr. Virginia Howard, professor in the department of epidemiology, and Dr. Suzanne E. Judd, associate professor in the department of biostatistics, at UAB; as well as Dr. David L. Roth, MA, professor in the division of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. William E. Haley, professor at the School of Aging at the University of South Florida.