Experts Agree: PTSD May Be Common In Caregivers

Tim Watt  |  April 2, 2013

When thinking about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and caregiving, many would imagine a caregiver looking after a loved one who has the mental health condition. However, a newly discovered pattern shows that caregivers are the ones suffering from PTSD. Although little research exists on the topic, experts agree that caregivers can experience this type of psychological trouble after caring for a seriously ill friend or relative, The New York Times reports.

For caregivers who have have looked after a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, cancer or another disorder, the suffering they witnessed can last long after their loved one has passed. Dr. Barry Jacobs, a clinical psychologist and author of "The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers," told the news outlet that caregivers can suffer from flashbacks, feelings of numbness, anxiety, guilt, dread, depression and irritability -  all clinical signs of PTSD. He notes that while only a doctor would be able to determine whether these symptoms could constitute a PTSD diagnosis, the emotions are real and common among those looking after friends or relatives.

The fact that caregiving can take a psychological toll on an individual is no secret. A 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health found that the chronic stress a caregiver can be under - whether from the duration and type of care he or she is providing to a loved one or from dealing with finances and family tensions - can cause significant psychological distress, impaired health habits, psychiatric illness and physical illness.

Emotional stress is a good reason to look into other elder care options, whether full-time nursing care at an assisted living community or simply short-term respite stays in senior living. Reaching out for help from loved ones and available senior services can be hugely beneficial to a caregiver's overall well-being and improve the type of care and support he or she is able to provide.