Caregivers of older patients with bipolar disorder at risk of mental illnesses

Family caregivers play a major role in long-term care responsibilities without pay or compensation. There could be various adverse effects of a family member taking care of a mentally ill person, including impaired quality of life, loss of productive time, financial stresses and less time for leisure and socializing. Some of the possible debilitating effects on a caregiver include elevated stress and depression, poorer self-rated health, chronic medical condition, increased use of antidepressants and tranquilizers, and a higher occurrence of hospitalization.

According to a study, “Burden on caregivers of older patients with bipolar disorder,” published in the journal Aging & Mental Health in March 2017, 6.4 percent experienced depressive symptoms while more than 50 percent of all caregivers reported some degree of burden, characterized by psychiatric hospitalizations and impaired social functioning. In addition, other obligations of the caregiver were also found to contribute to the overall burden.

The results of this study were consistent with previous studies, which identified patients’ problem behaviors as the major cause of caregivers’ distress that included uncooperative behavior, refusal of their caregivers and the helplessness caregivers felt as patients switched between maniac and depressive phases.

Factors affecting caregivers’ health

Managing day-to-day requirements such as administering medication, arranging for hospital visits, looking after the finances may cause considerable stress and burden to the caregivers. There are other factors as well which negatively impact their health. These are:

Gender: Among caregivers, females offer a better emotional support and can manage relationships better. While males find it difficult to cope with the uncertainty about their judgement of patient’s capacity and the unpredictability of the changing symptoms of the mental illness.

Occupational status: Unemployed caregivers are more vulnerable to the burden of family member with mental illness and are more likely to experience frustration, anxiety, low-esteem and sense of helplessness. Employed members, on the contrary, report higher self-esteem and fewer negative reactions as a response to the illness of their family members.

Relationship with the patient: The spouses of the patients report significantly higher burden in terms of distance problems in the relationships, anger in conflict situations and restrictions related to a caregiver’s life. Around 70 percent partners complained of disruptions in household routine after their partners were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Significantly, 50 percent partners said that had they known more about bipolar disorders they would not have got married. Conversely, only 5 percent patients had the same feelings.

Severity of the illness: The severity of the illness has a clear association with caregivers’ burden as the changing symptoms bring uncertainty and lack of understanding. The risk of imminent threat to life caused by the deteriorating symptoms can be fearsome. In case of bipolar patients with severe mania, things may go out of control if the patient is not immediately admitted to emergency care.

History of suicide attempts by patient: Patients with bipolar disorder, depression and psychosis are vulnerable to suicide attempts, the fear of which keeps the caregivers at their toes, thereby adding on to their emotional burden.

Treating bipolar disorder in older adults

The treatment of bipolar disorder, a lifelong condition, involves managing symptoms in order to improve the quality of life. Depending on the patient’s needs, the interventions may include medications (mood stabilizers and antidepressants), behavioral therapies (CBT, family-focused therapy), electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or hospitalization. It is equally important for caregivers to look after their health and consult a mental health expert for guidance in leading a good life. Seeking counseling and pursuing one’s favorite hobbies can ease stress and bring back the positivity in life.

If a loved one is suffering from any mental health condition, contact the Texas Mental Health Recovery Helpline for information on the problem and the treatment modalities. Chat online or call our 24/7 helpline 866-596-4708 for information on the best mental health treatment centers in Texas. Our representatives can assist you in finding the right mental health treatment program in Texas.

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