More caregivers—usually family members caring for an ill or disabled loved one—could benefit from massage therapy, according to both massage and caregiving experts—and new research shows that some caregivers suffer from symptoms depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at rates four-to-five times higher than the average population.

In late 2007 MASSAGE Magazine reported on a new caregiver program launched by a massage school, and, earlier, on research showing that when caregivers massage their charges, anxiety decreases while perceptions of self-efficacy increase.

A recent article in Today’s Caregiver Magazine noted, “Massage is suggested on nearly every caregiver self-help list, yet it seems that only a small percentage actually takes advantage of its benefits. Modesty, unfamiliarity or lack of information about the massage experience may prevent caregivers from participating in a valuable form of self-care and positive, healing touch.”

The new research shows that symptoms of depression and PTSD among caregivers of deceased lung transplant patients are four-to-five times more prevalent than in the average population. These indings were presented at the American Thoracic Society’s 2008 International Conference in Toronto on Monday, May 19.

Massage therapy has been shown effective in treating symptoms of depression (www.massagemag.com /depression).

Caregivers of all lung transplant recipients at the University of Washington who had died within the last five years were assessed using three validated questionnaires that measured their burden of depression, their level of PTSD symptoms and the quality of their loved ones’ last days.

“We found that caregivers reported that their loved one’s symptoms were poorly controlled and that the quality of the dying and death process was worse than that of other populations. In addition, family members who perceived that their loved one had either a lower quality of dying and death or poorly controlled pain symptoms, were more likely to have symptoms consistent with PTSD,” said Cynthia Gries, M.D., of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

This is the first study to evaluate the caregivers’ experience with end-of-life care in lung transplant patients, and to evaluate the psychological effects it has on those family members who survive.
“The caregivers we studied had rates of depressive symptoms of 21 percent and of PTSD symptoms of 32 percent, compared to the average in the general population of six to seven percent,” Gries said. “This suggests that there is a significant burden of psychological symptoms in family members which has previously been unrecognized.”

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