News

Caregivers, Chronically Ill Under More Stress

More Likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors to alleviate stress

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Americans are under considerable stress, according to a new survey by the American Psychological Association.

Nearly half of the respondents reported an increase in stress over the last five years. 

While money, work and the economy were cited as the major causes, stress levels were particularly acute among people with chronic diseases or those caring for aging or chronically ill family members.

Caregivers report higher levels of stress, poorer health and a greater tendency to engage in unhealthy behaviors to alleviate their stress than the general public.

When Jillian Downs was pregnant she got some bad news. Her baby had cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes sticky thick mucus to build up in the lungs and create life-threating infections. It also complicates the digestive system making it more difficult for the body to absorb nutrients and food.

Life expectation at the time was 32, Downs' age.

Now, seven years later her daughter Ava begins her day in a big stuffed chair in the living room. She buckles up a special electric vest, that gently inflates and deflates. The pressure works loose any mucus in her lungs. Ava does the vest therapy twice a day, every day.

Ava Downs’ twice-a-day therapy involves a vest that vibrates her chest to shake sticky mucus from her lungs.
Ava Downs’ twice-a-day therapy involves a vest that vibrates her chest to shake sticky mucus from her lungs.

Downs says it has become a routine, as have other daily prescribed medications such as inhalants and dozens of pills including enzyme capsules before every meal and snack. “This is what we know. This is what she knows."

But there’s a whole list of other concerns, says Ava's father Philip, “We need to pay attention to her diet, her weight, her hydration, monitor her vitamin D levels and extra vitamins.”

Caring for loved one

Jillian and Philip Downs are among millions of caregivers in the United States, who manage children with special needs, or aging or chronically ill family members. And that number is likely to grow as the number of older Americans is expected to double by 2030, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

For Suzanne Mintz, caregiving is her whole life. “I have it in my day job and I have it at home.”

Mintz is president of the National Family Caregivers Association, an advocacy and support organization she founded not long after her husband Steven was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 1990s.

Her life didn’t change much in the beginning, but over the years and her husband’s condition worsened, she had to do more. Now she helps him get out of bed, shower, dress, eat and move in and out of a wheel chair. Mintz says it hasn’t been easy on their marriage.

“I haven’t always dealt with it. I’ve had serious depression several times. But I think we finally learned how to deal with each other.”

Steven Mintz, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 20 years ago, increasingly depends on his wife, Suzanne, for his daily needs.
Steven Mintz, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 20 years ago, increasingly depends on his wife, Suzanne, for his daily needs.

Mintz says things improved once she realized that asking for help wasn’t a sign of weakness, but simply recognition that she couldn’t do everything on her own. “I just think that it’s absolutely important to get help. Some people have a hard time asking for it, I understand that, but sooner or later you have to for multiple reasons.”

Steven Mintz adds, that the other side of it has been accepting help, “which hasn’t been easy.”

Support Network

They both agree that it is important to deal directly with one’s stress, an idea underscored by a panel of experts at the release of the annual American Psychological Association Stress in America survey.

One of the experts was Katherine Nordal, who specializes in the treatment of stress-related disorders says caregivers do better when they are plugged into a support system.

“The caregiver group seems to be much, much better when they are plugged into some sort of a support system. They demonstrate less isolation, less loneliness, better coping strategies, less depression, less irritability and less risk of chronic disease when they are plugged into those family and friends and other sorts of community-based support systems.”

Communication Relieves Stress

For Jillian and Philip Downs, whose daughter has cystic fibrosis, say that support comes from a network of cystic fibrosis care centers and local groups that raise funds for a cure. But perhaps most importantly, they support each other.

Philip says they haven’t figured out the magic formula for managing stress, but that communication is a big part of it. We have, I think, a common sense approach where my happiness is dependent on her happiness.

So if she’s stressed out, I know that I am not going to be at my best. So we need to communicate that and try to support each other the best way we can.

Jillian says they are lucky. “We don’t disagree about what we need to do for Ava and ourselves.”

With Ava’s chronic illness and, now, the prospect of a new baby on the way, the Downs know their stresses are far from over. But they are confident they will make it through.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs