Participating in Pleasant Activity Lowers Blood Pressure in Caregivers

Caregivers are more likely to experience negative psychological and physical health than individuals who do not provide care for an ailing family member. Research has shown that people who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia are at increased risk for depression and anxiety. Additionally, the stress associated with caregiving can lead to elevated blood pressure (BP) and put caregivers at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). There has been extensive research in the area of caregiving, and many interventions have been designed to improve the psychological well-being of caregivers. Varying tools have been used to measure the effectiveness of these approaches, but almost all the scales evaluate the number of pleasant events people participate in or the restrictions that they perceive prevent them from participating in certain activities. However, until recently, no scale has incorporated both of these elements. The Pleasant Events and Activity Restriction (PEAR) model is a relatively new tool that assesses both of these factors and considers how they influence overall psychological well-being.

Because psychological health directly impacts physiological health, Elizabeth A. Chattillion of the Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at San Diego State University/University of California recently evaluated a group of 66 caregivers using the PEAR. Her goal was to ascertain if individuals who engaged in high levels of pleasant activities and had low levels of perceived restrictions (HPLR) would have lower BP than those with low pleasant activity participation and high perceived restriction (LPHR). Chatillion found that the participants with HPLR based on PEAR results had the lowest levels of negative mood, depression, anxiety, and blood pressure. In contrast, those in the LPHR group had higher levels of negative affect and higher BP. “These findings provide further support for the utility of the PEAR model and its association with negative caregiver outcomes,” said Chatillion. She believes that the results of this study also provide support for the use of behavioral activation techniques in order to help caregivers learn ways to engage in more pleasurable activities, regardless of whether they have perceived restrictions or not.

Chattillion, E. A., Ceglowski, J., Roepke, S. K., von Känel, R., Losada, A., Mills, P. J., et al. (2012). Pleasant events, activity restriction, and blood pressure in dementia caregivers. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029412

Related articles:
Taking Care of Yourself While Caring for a Loved One: Your Body
Self-Care to Combat Anxiety
Taking in the World, One Moment at a Time

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  • joyce


    August 24th, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    being the primary caregiver does take it toll both physically and mentally.having been in that position for over two years for my mother I know how this affects the caregiver.I loved my mom and really wanted to help and care for her but this was involuntary.I think if there is a system developed to negate such effects in caregivers it is a wonderful thing and that more and more caregivers should be made aware of this and be encouraged to take it up.

  • anna f

    anna f

    August 25th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    You’d think that if it is an activity that you very much enjoy, unless it is downhill skateboarding or some crazy hijinks like that, that it would naturally lower your blood pressure simply because you are having a good time and can for the moment let go of so much of that stress that being a caregiver can give. Taking care of another person can definitely be a stressful situation, one that can be compounded when this is someone whom you love and you are having to watch them waste away, and there is nothing that you can do to feel like you can halt that decline. The biggest trip up here is actually getting the person who is taking care of them to feel like they can step back and take that time for themselves that most of them seriously neglect when they are in this role.

  • Carol


    August 25th, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    Sometimes it’s the small things that can help you take your mind off the daily drudge that often accompanies taking care of someone else. It is so hard on the psyche to see someone you love so vulnerable and helpless you have to eventually take a little time for yourself to unwind and take your mind off of things for a while.

  • mary


    August 25th, 2012 at 10:11 PM

    everybody deserves a break to rejuvenate and recharge..and it is all the more imp for those whose work involves high stress and worrying..caretakers are people who experience constant stress and worry and i’m not surprised pleasant activities help them.

  • J.H


    August 25th, 2012 at 11:43 PM

    As I stand to understand,the entire feeling of worry combined with not having any free time is what causes these problems in caregivers.How does this manifest in nurses and others who are constantly into caregiving as a full time profession?Do they experience the same or is it not as much because they are not caring for loved ones?How does this play out in such cases?

  • james u

    james u

    August 26th, 2012 at 4:25 AM

    When you are the only one who has the time and the resources to take care of a sick member of the family then I know that’s what syou should do, are compelled to do. But that doesn’t mean that you should have to do it alone or that you should have to give up the things that you love. I realize that full time care is an awesome and massive responsibility but at the same time you still owe it to yourself to be at your premium, How are you supposed to offer someone the best that you have when you allow yourself to get so run down that there is no best to give anymore?

  • brandon


    August 26th, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    being surrounded by thoughts of an ailing family member can bring down the morale and mood of any person and sometimes getting away from it all is always a welcome thing.

    and regarding the pleasant activities,are some activities found to be more beneficial than others?any results on this from the study?

  • KJP


    August 27th, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Caring for others is sure to be a strain on anyone. Look at the high number of even doctors and nurses who repost having a difficult time sometimes decompressing and dealing with the numerous health situations that arise as a result of thier jobs.

    We all want to do something positive for the people who are important to us in our loives. But at what cost? How much of ourselves are we required to give to then make that kind of difference to someone else? I know that there will be times when we all get stressed. But think about the demands that providing this kind of service and dealing with this sort of pressure all of the time can place on you. We are talking more stress, higher rates of poor health among the caregiving population and a loss of quality of life for an entire segmant that really shouldn’t be experiencing that kind of loss at all.

    If you have to care for someone daily then I encourage you to still keep something special in your own life, something that means something to you and that you can continue to be a part of. You can’t sllow one facet of your life to completely overtake everything else.

  • Julia sutton

    Julia sutton

    August 28th, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    I find some of my greatest moments when I am helping to take care of an elderly neighbor. Granted she is not a family member so perhaps I don’t feel all of the stress that a true blood relative would feel, but I happen to enjoy our time together and for me it is a little chance for me to give something back to her an dto remember to be a little more appreciative of the good health and gifts that I have been given. I am sorry that some others in my place seem to feel the opposite of what I experience, and again I am sure that it could be different if it was your own family or if you are the sole person doing the majority of the work. But I have tried to take this as a chance to get to know someone better who really has a lot of wisdom and experience to share and who really has added rich blessings to my life.

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