Are you possibly a caregiver in distress?

tporter@lsjournal.comJuly 5, 2013 

  • 52.8 The percent of people in a national study of those caring for individuals with diseases including cancer or Alzheimer’s showed had scores that indicate depression.

Independent studies show nearly one-third of adults living in Eastern Jackson County –including Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, Independence and Raytown – are family caregivers who could be at risk for heart disease, diabetes, depression and various other physical and emotional maladies as a result of caregiver distress, a potentially dangerous condition brought on by the pressures of caring for a senior loved one.

Michelle Brunell, owner of a Home Instead Senior Care branch in Lee’s Summit since 2004, said studies have also increasingly pointed to caregiving as a leading stressor for families. In fact, one U.S. study revealed that more than half (52.8 percent) of those caring for individuals with diseases including cancer or Alzheimer’s had scores indicating depression.

In response to the growing issue, Brunell’s office launched a public awareness campaign – Family Caregiver Stress Relief at FamilyCaregiverStressRel – to help family caregivers determine if they are at risk for distress and to minimize problems before they escalate.

“Actually, it kind of got its start by my own family on both sides,” Brunell said of the origins for the awareness campaign. “I won’t give their names, but they’re kind of suffering from the affliction of being a caregiver. They don’t really see themselves as caregivers because they’re caring for family members, but they are experiencing what we call caregiver distress. It puts them at risk for heart disease and diabetes, and they are also experiencing depression. They’re starting to feel isolated and alone and their bodies are breaking down.”

Included in the awareness program are two new tools: the ‘Are You a Caregiver’ quiz, which is designed to help a family caregiver self-identify and recognize the role of a caregiver, and the Family Caregiver Distress Assessment, adapted for the Home Instead Senior Care network by Peter Vitaliano of the University of Washington.

The assessment allows caregivers to determine their risk for distress and resulting emotional and physical issues, including depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

“So many spouses and adult children are unaware of their potential risk of caregiver distress because they don’t see themselves as caregivers,” Brunell said. “These new resources enable them to understand their role, the stresses they may face as a caregiver, and how that stress might lead to more serious health effects.”

A recent Home Instead Senior Care study discovered that caregivers are prone to hiding their emotions and, as a result, their health suffers. Approximately 74 percent of caregivers who hide their feelings report fatigue, 53 percent report difficulty sleeping, 37 percent report depression, and 30 percent suffer weight gain or loss.

Research shows that certain characteristics make family caregivers more vulnerable to caregiver distress, the top being:

Gender: Women report more psychological distress than men (however, male caregivers have more negative physiological responses to caregiving, including higher blood sugar and insulin levels, poorer cholesterol and immune function, and obesity).

Reluctance to ask for help: Caregivers who won’t ask for help are setting themselves up for the kind of exhaustion that can lead to distress.

Chronic Illness: Caregivers who are already sick or have existing medical conditions, such as coronary disease, hypertension and cancer, are more vulnerable to additional negative health effects resulting from caregiver stress.

“It’s important for caregivers to understand that stress can impact one’s ability to care. If they don’t care for themselves, they may put their senior loved ones at risk. Whether it’s support groups, stress management techniques or respite help, caregivers need to realize the importance of managing their health, too,” Brunell said.

For more information about the services of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving Eastern Jackson County including Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, Independence and Raytown call 816- 554-6166 or visit


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