New research explores connection between caring and cardiovascular health of women

Oct 20 2022

 

Researchers from the Hunter Medical Research Institute and the University of Newcastle are investigating the connection between caring duties and the cardiovascular health of female carers, specifically women who are caring for people with stroke.

 

Dr Heidi Janssen and Dr Alexandra Denham have found that women are 2.5 times more likely than men to be a primary carer, with women representing 7 in every 10 primary carers (72%). Primary carers most commonly provide care to a spouse or partner (40%).

 

“The impact of caregiving on female carers’ lifestyle and management of physical and mental health across the caregiving trajectory is not well understood, especially for female carers of stroke survivors,” - Dr. Heidi Janssen

 

“What we do know is that caring has a measurable physiological impact.

“We want to understand what is happening, why it’s happening and what we can do to develop supports that offset these negative health impacts.”

One of the biggest issues carers in the study have identified as challenging for them is prioritising their own mental and physical health (eg.their self-care and emotional health).

“Whilst women have an awareness of the importance of things like engaging in physical activity and consuming a heart-healthy diet, competing priorities such as time management and concern around food waste have been identified as common barriers to entry,” Heidi says.

“Female carers report significantly lower participation in health-promoting activities like engaging in regular physical activity, and experiencing high levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.”

 


"Understanding how to support female carers to live well and engage in behaviours important for a healthy heart, brain and blood vessels is an important first step in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in female carers," Heidi says.

 

With cardiovascular disease (CVD) the leading cause of death among women in Australia, accounting for approximately 22,200 deaths (one-third), Heidi says they will use information from their study to develop strategies and programs to empower female carers to engage in behaviours that support better health and emotional well-being.

“Understanding how to support female carers to live well and engage in behaviours important for a healthy heart, brain and blood vessels is an important first step in reducing the risk of CVD in female carers,” she says.

Heidi says the things we can all do to improve our cardiovascular health include:

  • ‘Know your numbers’, meaning monitor blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels
  • Take medications as prescribed by your doctors
  • Eat a healthy diet, aiming for five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day
  • Exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes where you get a bit ‘huffy puffy’ (short of breath)
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than ten standard drinks per week and never consume more than four standard drinks in one sitting
  • Manage stress as best as possible
  • Avoid smoking

The new cardiovascular research project, called FoCCuS4HEART, is currently being co-designed alongside female carers of people with stroke.

Anyone who would like to participate in this research study is encouraged to contact Dr Janssen at Heidi.Janssen@health.nsw.gov.au or call 02 4921 4037