By Patti Neighmond
Taking care of a sick loved one is certainly an altruistic and loyal activity. But new research finds that if the sick individual is your spouse and suffers with dementia, caring for them puts you at increased risk of cognitive decline yourself.
Research published in the Journal of The American Geriatrics Society finds individuals who cared for a spouse suffering from dementia were six times more likely to suffer dementia themselves, compared to spouses of individuals who were dementia free.
You may have head that stress can play a big role in developing dementia, but this new study goes one step further.
In this study, researchers suggest that the stress, distress and even grief over watching one's spouse suffer from the memory loss and disorientation of dementia, along with the physical burdens of providing care may be a critical reason for increased dementia risk for the caregiver.
In additional to extremely close emotional ties, caregivers are also often fatigued and overwhelmed by physical exertion required to keep a loved one safe and comfortable.
In this study, researchers from the University of Utah analyzed what happened to 1,221 married couples over the age of 65 when one spouse cared for the other who had dementia.
They followed these couples for up to 12 years. Psychiatrists assessed the mental health of caregivers over the years, measuring mental decline with a variety of cognitive tests.
Researchers say future studies should focus on understanding the stressful context of such care giving, so that particularly stressful patterns can be identified. If doctors had more information about how stress affects caregivers, they might be able to intervene before permanent problems set in.
More bad news? Doctors aren't really sure how to stave off Alzheimer's disease, a key cause of dementia.