Caregivers Face Increased Arthritis Burden
People who spend time caring for relatives or friends were significantly more likely than noncaregivers to report having arthritis themselves, federal survey data indicated.
Among adult participants in the 2017 and 2019 iterations of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), 35.1% of those qualifying as caregivers said they had been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, compared with 24.5% of noncaregivers, according to Eva M.J. Jackson, MPH, of the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, and colleagues.
Caregivers with arthritis also reported providing more hours of care and a longer duration of care along with a higher rate of disabilities than arthritis-free caregivers, the researchers wrote in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Just about half of the arthritic caregivers said they had activity limitations related to joint pain.
Jackson and colleagues said the findings suggest that clinicians seeing caregivers with arthritis should “recommend physical activity and lifestyle management programs for arthritis” to help with symptom management. “A higher proportion of caregivers with arthritis also reported providing care for ≥40 hours per week and for ≥5 years than did caregivers without arthritis, suggesting that they might benefit from long-term services and supports,” the group noted.
But the investigators had no answer to one obvious question: why would arthritis be more common in caregivers? The data did indicate that caregivers with arthritis were significantly more likely to be unable to work (22.6% vs 7.6%) or to be retired (33.1% vs 18.4%). Since these individuals were without jobs — potentially because of their arthritis — conceivably they had time other family members lacked to provide care for others. However, such information was not collected in the BRFSS, and Jackson and colleagues declined to speculate.
Data for the analysis came from approximately 91,000 BRFSS participants in 17 geographically diverse states. Some 20,000 were caregivers, i.e., those who responded “yes” when asked if they “provided care to a family member or friend with a health condition or disability during the past 30 days.” Respondents were considered to have arthritis if they answered “yes” when asked if they had been told by a healthcare professional that they had any of the following: arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, or gout.
Some 41% of caregivers were 45-64 years old, and 36% were 65 or older; noncaregivers were more often younger than 45 (27% vs 21%).
Approximately 30% of caregivers said they performed care tasks at least 20 hours per week. The percentage was slightly higher among those with arthritis (32.8% vs 28.5%).
Types of care provided did not differ between those with and without arthritis. One-third said they performed household tasks only, and about 44% did both household chores and provided personal care. About 16% said they provided primarily other types of care.
Among those with arthritis, 38% said they had difficulties with mobility and 10% with self-care. Some 15% reported problems with living independently.
These latter findings were perhaps the most troubling for Jackson and colleagues. They noted that caregiving can be physically demanding. “[C]aregivers with arthritis who have related disabilities and activity and work limitations might experience unique challenges to sustaining the care they provide, including financial insecurity because of loss of paid income,” the group wrote.
Limitations to the analysis included that the data were self-reported by participants.
Authors declared they had no relevant financial interests.
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