Caregiver Stress: The Impact of Chronic Disease on the Family
A chronic condition is a problem that lasts for a long time or one that will never go away, such as Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease. With the growth of our aging population, many more people will be touched by chronic conditions. Many will need assistance with routine aspects of everyday life.
The responsibilities of caregiving, added to the routine pressures of maintaining a family and professional life, can naturally lead to stress. Stress, in turn, creates a ripple effect on the health and well-being of not only the caregiver, but everyone from family members to friends and co-workers.
Living with a chronic condition—and caring for a person with a chronic condition—can lead to physical and emotional stress. The symptoms of this stress may look similar in both the person dealing with the condition and the caregiver. The symptoms include:
- Anger, sometimes leading to physical violence
- Dissatisfaction with life
- Stress-related physical conditions, such as gastrointestinal problems or insomnia
For the person with the chronic condition, the level and type of stress may vary depending on the specific illness and its prognosis. Common causes of physical and emotional stress include:
- Changes in ability to work or do recreational activities
- Changes in personal and professional relationships
- Physical changes and side effects
- Management of symptoms and medications
- Financial demands of healthcare needs
For caregivers who offer a wide range of help, stressors also depend on the intensity of their involvement and their relationship to the person in need. These stressors often include:
- Extra demands on time and energy
- Changes in family roles and responsibilities
- Changes in work time and time to perform professional responsibilities
- Pressure of trying to keep up with the caregiving and still having a life outside of work and the home
Because it is common for caregivers to feel stressed and depressed, some doctors refer to caregivers as hidden patients.
Last reviewedApril 2014by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.