Critter Corner: The High Stakes of Caregiver Stress

Dear Ribbit,

My father has dementia, and right now, my mother is his primary caregiver. I could tell that she is extremely stressed in her role. I know that can’t be good for my father. Have there been any studies about how caregiver stress affects loved ones with dementia? Thanks for your help!

Phil N. Strest


Dear Phil,

Yes. In fact, a recent UC Berkeley study found that patients with dementia may actually die sooner if their family caregivers are mentally stressed.

From 2007 until 2016, UC Berkeley researchers tracked the mortality of 176 patients with neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia. They also measured the mental health of the family members who took care of them.

Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, indicate that patients tended by caregivers with depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of mental illness typically died sooner than those being looked after by caregivers in good mental health. For example, compared to patients who were cared for by relatives in fairly good mental health, patients tended by family members in poor mental health died, on average, about 14 months sooner.

The study notes that poor mental health in caregivers can affect patients’ lives in a variety of ways. It can reduce the quality of patient care by raising the risk of neglect or abuse, weaken the patients’ immune systems by compromising social bonds between the caregiver and patient, or transmit negative emotions directly to patients through a phenomenon known as emotion contagion, in which one person in a relationship absorbs the emotional responses of the other.

The study is thought to be the first to link the mental health of caregivers to the mortality of patients who suffer from a diverse range of neurodegenerative diseases, researchers said.

So, please make sure your mother does everything she can to lessen the stress in her life, including taking time for herself (respite time), exercising, and getting support from friends, family, and medical professionals.

Hope this helps!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.