Purpose: Caring for a person who has experienced stroke can be a formidable task placing considerable demands upon the informal caregiver. Although the impact of caring on mental health has been well established, less convincing associations between caregiving and declining physical health have been reported. In order to examine the impact of caregiving over time on the physical health of individuals providing informal care for individuals with stroke, we conducted a review of the published literature.
Method: Literature searches of three electronic databases were conducted for the years 1996-2008 to identify studies providing longitudinal data based on repeated quantitative assessment of physical health. Pooled analyses were conducted.
Results: Sixteen studies were identified for inclusion. On the basis of pooled analyses, perceived physical health appeared stable over time. When comparisons to normative values were possible, the experience of health did not differ substantially from age- and sex-matched norms. Associations between physical health and psychological distress or well-being were identified.
Conclusions: Informal caregiving does not result, necessarily, in reduced physical health. Further study is required to examine the timing and nature of the relationship between psychological distress and physical health to inform provision of services intended to maintain caregiver health and well being.