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Stroke's 'Other' Victims

Depression rates are high among the caregivers

SATURDAY, July 7, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The trauma of a stroke can be devastating not only for the patient, but also for the caregiver.

Studies have shown that one-third of the caregivers wind up suffering from depression.

One big reason: The stress of having to contend with a new and difficult set of behavior characteristics displayed by the patient.

Another reason: With so much effort rightfully devoted to rehabilitating the patient, the caregiver's needs are often neglected.

Tammy Bakas, an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing who interviewed 32 caregivers of stroke victims, says, "People weren't having too much trouble with the tasks of providing personal care. But dealing with the behavioral and emotional issues were what was difficult for them."

It's not uncommon for stroke survivors to experience moodiness, irritability, confusion and memory loss.

Bakas presented her findings at the recent American Heart Association International Stroke Conference.

Danny Chun, a spokesman for the Alzheimer's Association, says the toll of caring for a stricken loved one can also be lethal.

"A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year found that elderly spouses strained by caregiving are 63 percent more likely to die during a four-year period than others their age," Chun says.

"In addition, older caregivers of Alzheimer's patients are three times more likely to be clinically depressed than others in their age group," he says.

Acknowledging and dealing with the problems confronting a caregiver is a major role of the Alzheimer's Association, Chun adds.

"One of our key services is providing support groups. In fact, our slogan is, 'Someone to stand by you.' People find great relief in support groups. They share coping strategies and common problems. But it's just the connecting to other people and seeing that they're not alone that is so important."

Bakas agrees that support and education are both crucial for all caregivers.

To help caregivers of stroke victims, Bakas is involved with Operation Stroke. It's an initiative of the American Stroke Association to develop informational materials for distribution to stroke survivors and their caregivers upon discharge from the hospital.

What to Do: Visit the American Stroke Association for more information on Operation Stroke and other issues. Or see the Hope Through Research site, operated by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

SOURCES: Interviews with Tammy Bakas, D.N.S., assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing, Indianapolis; Danny Chun, spokesman, Alzheimer's Association, Chicago; Indiana University press release
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