The stress of caring for a family member with multiple sclerosis (MS) or another neurodegenerative disease may directly affect the quality of care, according to a study showing that poor caregiver mental health causes higher mortality rates among the patients they care for.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stresses that any attempts to improve the lives of people with such conditions must take caregiver health into account.
“Our finding of the strong relationship between patient survival and caregiver mental health underscores the profound intertwining of the lives and well-being of caregivers and patients as they engage in one of life’s most challenging and intimate relationships,” Robert Levenson, the study’s senior author and psychology professor at University of California, Berkeley, said in a university news release.
In contrast to earlier research, which often looked at patients with a particular diagnosis, the study, “Poor caregiver mental health predicts mortality of patients with neurodegenerative disease,” included 176 patient-caregiver pairs with a variety of neurodegenerative diseases such as MS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, among others.
Of the pairs analyzed, 85 percent were spouses, 8 percent were adult children and 6 percent were siblings.
Researchers noted that patients of caregivers with depression, anxiety and other mental issues died an average 14 months earlier than patients cared by family members in good mental health; in total, 76 patients died during the study.
The research team believes that this is the first time scientists link caregiver mental health to patient mortality.
“These findings make a compelling case that helping preserve the mental health of caregivers may also help the patients in their care,” said Brett Ford, the study’s co-lead author and now assistant professor in psychology at Canada’s University of Toronto.
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