Disorders and Treatment
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There are few resources available to assist the more than 34 million Americans now caring for a terminally ill loved one.
After finding that 23 percent of caregivers have moderate to severe depression, and 33 percent suffer from moderate to severe anxiety, researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine are recommending regular mental health screenings for family caregivers.
The investigators acknowledge that a certain amount of worry and sadness is expected when caring for dying family members or loved ones, but emphasize clinical anxiety and depression symptoms should not be ignored.
“We have a population that is under immense stress and is not being acknowledged,” says lead researcher Debra Parker-Oliver, Ph.D. “Basic assessment tools should be used to help increase the likelihood of early detection and treatment of depression and anxiety in family caregivers.”
Parker-Oliver and her investigative team reached their conclusions by assessing 395 family caregivers for symptoms of anxiety and depression. Besides finding that many were clinically depressed or anxious, the researchers pinpointed several risk factors associated with mood disorders among caregivers.
Younger caregivers, for instance, are more susceptible to depression or anxiety, and those who are married and helping family members with illnesses other than cancer, such as Alzheimer’s disease, tend to have severer depression.
Many caregivers are never assessed for mood disorders since health providers generally focus on the terminal patient. “However, in many scenarios, it is a family disease. It’s fair to say they have two patients: the caregiver and the person who is terminally ill,” said Parker-Oliver.
By using affordable assessment tools for depression and anxiety, the researchers believe health care providers can improve quality of life and long-term outcomes for family caregivers.
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