Understanding a Caregiver’s Stress

A 2003 study of caregivers has proven that the off-repeated adage “stress can kill you” is true. The focus of the investigation was the effect the stress of caregiving had on caregivers.

A team of researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center has found a chemical marker in the blood that shows a significant increase under chronic stress and is linked to an impaired immune system response in aging adults. The team, led by Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, reports in the June 30, 2003 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on a 6-year study of elderly people caring for spouses with Alzheimer’s Disease. With the caregivers, the team found a four-fold increase in an immune system protein — interleukin 6 (IL-6) — as compared to a control group of non-caregivers. Only the stress of caregiving correlated to the marked increase of IL-6 in the caregiver group. All other factors, including age, were not significant to the outcome. Even the younger caregivers saw an increase in IL-6.

The study also found that the caregivers had a 63% higher death rate than the control group. About 70% of the caregivers died before the end of the study and had to be replaced by new subjects. Another surprising result was that high levels of IL-6 continued even three years after the caregiving stopped. Dr. Glaser proposes that prolonged stress may have triggered a permanent abnormality of the immune system.

The problem is if this response is initiated repeatedly over a long period; it can have a dangerous effect on the body. This repetitive initiation of the stress response is common among caregivers — especially those caring for loved ones with dementia. Providing supervision or physical assistance many hours a week and over a period of years turns out to be extremely stressful. This type of stress is often unrelenting, occurring day after day and week after week. And the long-term effects of this stress are more pronounced in middle-aged and older people who are precisely the group most likely offering long-term care to loved ones.

If you are a caregiver, please give us a call.  Through a properly-designed Life Care Plan for your loved one, the Farr Law Firm can help you minimize or eliminate much of your stress.

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