Caregivers More Likely to Be Depressed

Family members or friends caring for aging or disabled individuals in California are under both financial and emotional strain.

Family members or friends caring for aging or disabled individuals in California are under both financial and emotional strain and are likely to face even greater burdens, given recent cuts in state support for programs and services that support in-home care.

“This is the ‘sandwich generation,’ the group of people struggling to meet the needs of both growing children and aging parents, often alone and while holding down full-time jobs. Caregivers need help, especially as baby boomers age and place even greater strains on their and their families’ abilities to cope,” Geoffrey Hoffman said in a statement. He is lead author of a policy brief, “Stressed and Strapped: Caregivers in California,” released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

“We may be seeing an association between care giving and stress, where caregivers are both more likely to be seriously depressed and to exhibit certain health behaviors that put them at risk,” Hoffman said. “These effects on caregivers’ overall health merit attention from policymakers.”

The brief looked at California’s estimated 6 million—plus informal caregivers of all ages. The researchers found higher levels of serious psychological distress and negative health behaviors, such as smoking, compared with the general population.

An estimated 2.6 million caregivers between the ages of 45 and 64 are of particular concern, because they may be setting themselves up for an unhealthy future due to higher rates of poor health behaviors, compared with both non-caregivers in the same age range and older caregivers.

The researchers used data from the 2009 California Health Interview Survey and found that California caregivers provide an average of 20 hours of care per week for a friend or relative who can no longer do certain things for themselves, such as bathing, shopping, managing medications or paying bills.

The data showed that more than one million caregivers reported moderate or serious distress levels, with almost one-third reporting that their emotions interfere a great deal with their household chores (29.9%) or their social lives (32.9%).

In addition, middle-aged caregivers are more likely to binge drink (25.5%), smoke (15.9%), and/or be obese (30.1%) compared with both older caregivers and non-caregivers of the same age. Most strikingly, caregivers of all ages who reported serious psychological distress were 208% more likely to smoke than non-caregivers with serious psychological distress.

“Family members and friends supporting loved ones in need provide the bulk of personal assistance services and often absorb the high costs of caregiving, both financially and emotionally,” Bruce Chernof, MD, president and CEO of The SCAN Foundation, which provided funding for the analysis, said in a statement. “Programs that support family caregivers can help them create and sustain vulnerable elders in community settings, which promotes the values of dignity, choice and independence as loved ones grow older.”

SourceStressed and Strapped: Caregivers for Friends, Relatives Suffer Emotional and Financial Strain [UCLA]