The Stress of Caring

The Stress of Caring

In fact, since the late 1990’s caregiver health has been the subject of intense scrutiny. This is, in part, attributed not only to the well-established links between caregiver stress and poor caregiver health, but also to the fact that caregivers make up a large proportion of the population (182,884 in Ireland alone). Thus, given these large numbers the wider societal and health implications become obvious.  Stress is something we have all felt. More often than not, it is associated with negative outcomes, but in some situations stress can be good for us (e.g., increased motivation and believe it or not enhanced immunity). However, when stress is prolonged and intense (e.g., caregiving to a sick or disabled relative), it can sometimes have a damaging effect on the body. Our previous research has confirmed that caring is damaging to health via immune, hormonal and cardiovascular pathways.

Our recent research (Gallagher and Hannigan, 2014) found that parents caring for children with disabilities were at greater risk of having a chronic health condition and depression compared to parents with children without disabilities (15% vs 9%). The data arising from the Growing Up in Ireland study is a nationally representative sample of over 8,500 9-year old children in Ireland. We are currently exploring this dataset further to look at other caregiver health outcomes. Finally, given the associations between stress and cardiovascular health, we are using experimental methodology to investigate how social factors and stress interact to influence cardiovascular physiology.

Dr. Stephen Gallagher and Prof Aiish Hannigan are continuing this programme of work.