Harvard Health Letter

Caregivers: Remember your own health

News Briefs

When a loved one survives a critical hospital stay, your focus is likely that person's recovery. But when you're that person's caregiver, you may also need to consider your own well-being. A study published May 12, 2016, in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that caregivers of certain intensive care unit (ICU) survivors have a high risk for developing clinical depression that can last up to a year after the ICU survivor is discharged.

Researchers surveyed 280 caregivers (average age 53) of people who'd spent a week or more on an ICU ventilator. The caregivers answered questions about their own psychological well-being at one week after discharge, and then at three, six, and 12 months after discharge. Most caregivers—67%—reported high levels of depression symptoms initially, and 43% had symptoms a year later.

The study doesn't prove that caregiving caused the depression. But other studies have shown that caregiving can take a toll on a person's physical, mental, and emotional health. Researchers say caregivers had better health outcomes when they were older, caring for a spouse, had higher income, substantial social support, and a sense of control.