Can Caregiving Cause PTSD?

By Juana Poareo, Next Avenue Contributor

 middle age woman looking sad.

Kaci Smith, 36, recalls the gradual emergence of her PTSD symptoms about three years ago when she’d been caring for her mother at home following her mom’s 2012 stroke.

“It would be things like almost feeling like a panic attack,” says Smith, a Rochester, N.Y. teacher. “If she would complain of leg pain, I would think, ‘Oh, no. It’s a blood clot. We’re going to have to go through all this medical stuff again.’”

Smith, who stopped working when Covid-19 forced the U.S. into lockdown, has been a 24/7 caregiver for her mother during the pandemic and is on anti-anxiety medicine.

As the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving documented, being a family caregiver can be high stress. It can also, in some cases, bring on PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), an anxiety disorder caused by trauma. PTSD symptoms typically range from flashbacks and recurring dreams to insomnia and poor concentration.

Researching the Caregiving PTSD Link

Exactly how often caregiving can lead to PTSD is unknown.

“There remains very little research or attention on PTSD among caregivers,” says Dr. Ranak Trivedi, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.Recommended For You

But, Trivedi adds, “As clinical psychologists, we are also recognizing that chronic stress that is unrelenting — such as through caregiving — can lead to PTSD.”

Jennifer McAdam, an associate professor in the School of Nursing at Samuel Merritt University who co-authored a study about family caregivers of ICU patients, says more research needs to be conducted to establish the true impact of caregiver PTSD.

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