NPR Poll Underscores Prevalence of Stress in Our Lives

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • We’re a nation of stress!  And my hypothesis is that part of the reason for some of this stress for many people is the far-reaching tentacles of dementia and caregiving.

    A newly released nationwide poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that almost 50 percent of more than 2,500 respondents described having a major stressful experience during the previous year. Furthermore, 26 percent of the respondents said they had dealt with a great deal of stress the previous month.

    The survey, which was conducted in March and early April, queried respondents about their beliefs about the effects of stress, their ability to cope with it and their attitudes about stress. And while caregiving, dementia and chronic diseases that can contribute to dementia weren’t specifically mentioned in the NPR article, some of the responses suggest that it is probably contributing to people’s higher levels of stress.

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    Just look at some of the statistics that were reported:

    • During the previous year, 27 percent of the respondents said they personally had experienced illness and disease.
    • Sixteen percent said that they had suffered the death of a loved one during the previous year.
    • Nine percent of the stress-related issues were categorized as family events and issues.
    • Another nine percent were life changes or transitions.
    • Six percent were problems with personal relationships.  

    Furthermore, family health problems were rated fifth highest among stressors at 37 percent of respondents overall; this category was behind having too many responsibilities overall, issues with finances, work issues and the respondent’s own health problems. Of the respondents who described having stress over family health problems, One in four male respondents described having stress over family health problems as compared to 48 percent of all female respondents (who are often the ones who take on caregiving duties within families).

    Problems with family members also were described as stressful by 15 percent of all respondents. While not specifically stated, some of these could be disputes among siblings over care for a parent with dementia or –as happened in my own family – disagreements between the adult children and a parent about how best to deal with the other parent’s cognitive decline.

    When broken down by demographics, the data becomes even more interesting.  The findings were:

    • Stress from having too many responsibilities overall was described by 54 percent of the respondents. While 65 percent of respondents between the ages of 18-29 said they felt that way, adults who would be at an age when they probably would be in a caregiving role -- those between the ages of 40-49 (54 percent) and those between the ages of 50-64 (51 percent) -- listed this as an issue.
    • Stress from having family health problems was identified by 37 percent of the respondents overall. However, 53 percent of respondents who were 65 and older and 47 percent of the respondents who were between the ages of 50 and 64 described dealing with this issue.
    • Stress from having problems with family members was described by 32 percent of respondents. This particular area was skewed toward the older respondents; 37 percent of respondents between 40-49 years of age described this as did 39 percent of all respondents between 50-64 years of age and 35 percent of respondents who were 65 years of age and older.
    • Stress caused by changes in family situation was described by 10 percent of respondent overalls. While the highest amount (13 percent) was described by respondents who were 30-39 years of age, people who were between the ages of 50-64 – prime caregiving age -- were second highest at 11 percent of all respondents in this age group.

    The researchers also broke down the numbers by participants who were experiencing health issues.  While 37 percent of respondents overall said they had stress due to family health problems, the numbers were much higher among people who were experiencing their own health issues -- 46 percent of respondents with chronic illness, 50 percent of those who were disabled and 58 percent of respondents who were in poor health.

  • People described a wide variety of responses to dealing with a great deal of stress in their lives. The top responses included sleeping less (70 percent), eating less (44 percent), exercising less (43 percent), attending religious services or praying more than usual (41 percent), sleeping more than usual (41 percent), eating more than usual (39 percent), watching TV or playing videogames more than usual (33 percent), using social medial less than usual (28 percent), and exercising more than usual (26 percent).

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    So what are the takeaways? Although caregiving and dementia aren’t mentioned specifically in these answers, some of these categories and responses – especially among middle-age respondents -- probably encompass this situation. Obviously, responses that involved stress because of the health of a loved one raised a red flag, but caregiving also can cause strife among family relationships. Stress from caregiving also can contribute to health issues emerging among people; thus, it’s important to find good outlets to control these stresses.

     I’m heartened to see that prayer and religious services are turned to by a large percentage of respondents. I’d also be interested in other lifestyle choices – such as meditation, a social network or other outlets -- that people make to control stress.

    With that said, I’d encourage everyone to take steps to manage your stress, whether you’re someone with mild cognitive impairment or dementia, a caregiver or a family member watching a loved one’s struggles. This survey reinforces that stress is a part of life at every age. What is negotiable is how we deal with it.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Hensley, S. & Hurt, A. (2014). Stressed out: Americans tell us about stress in their lives. NPR.

Published On: July 08, 2014