J Rural Health. 2021 Feb 28. doi: 10.1111/jrh.12560. Online ahead of print.
PURPOSE: Caring for a family member with chronic illness increases cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk by 82%, and rurality imparts additional CVD disparities. The purpose of this study was to describe a profile of rural caregivers of patients with chronic illnesses to determine the prevalence of CVD risk factors, and psychosocial and socioeconomic burden, as well as to compare these variables across gender.
METHODS: Baseline data from a trial of CVD risk reduction in rural caregivers of patients with chronic illnesses were used. We measured depression and anxiety with the PHQ-9 and Brief Symptom Inventory; social, economic, and environmental factors using the MOS-Social Support and Economic and Environmental surveys; body mass index (BMI); blood pressure (BP); and lipid profile.
RESULTS: Of 181 caregivers (age 53±14 years, 80% female), 69% were married; 88% were caring for a family member, including 46% caring for a spouse and 18% for a parent. A total of 51% were anxious, 25% depressed, and 25% reported lack of social support. Most (51%) caregivers had one or more types of CVD; and 49% were smokers. By examination, 76% had elevated BP; 35% had total cholesterol >200; 50% low-density lipoprotein >100; 56% triglycerides >150; and 79% high-density lipoprotein <60. Based on BMI, 91.5% were overweight or obese. Gender comparisons revealed that women reported higher levels of depressive symptoms than men.
CONCLUSIONS: Rural caregivers, regardless of gender, are at increased risk of CVD and struggle with factors that make caregiving burdensome and contribute to their own poor cardiac health.