According to research conducted at Virginia Tech, the more a caregiver's day is disrupted by the unsettled behaviours of their loved one, the more they find themselves unable to meet or balance their own home and family workloads.
This heightens the effect of elevated stress levels on their own bodies, placing caregivers at risk for current and future health problems. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a transitional stage between normal age-related cognitive changes and early stages of Alzheimer's disease, is characterised by changes in memory that may not interfere with everyday activities but can cause frustration and anxiety among persons with the impairment and their family members.
Results of the team's research particularly note the involvement of rising cortisol levels in caregiver samples. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the body as the outside stress it is subjected to increases.
"Providing support for a relative encountering cognitive difficulties often requires significant changes in everyday roles and responsibilities," said Tina Savla. "These changes take a toll on family relationships and psychological health, and carry consequences for the care partner's physical health."
According to Savla, "Dealing with the day-to-day issues of living with a person with MCI can allow little time for recovery and may tax one's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system. The deregulation in this system likely contributes to illnesses by further distressing the cardiovascular, metabolic, and immune functions."
The team discovered that when behavioural problems escalated, typically during the late afternoon and early evening hours, caregivers found it necessary to cut back on or ignore their own scheduled chores, leaving a backlog of unfinished business and increasing caregiver frustration and distress. This effect was further multiplied when negative interactions with their partners increased as a result, and fewer positive interactions took place.
Difficulties and reactions reported during the daily interviews were confirmed by assaying saliva for cortisol, a stress-related hormone. Savla suggests that caregivers "are having stress reactions that may put them at greater risk for physical health problems." Her research team found elevated cortisol levels throughout the day with a slower rate of decline, typically linked with other diseases.
REHACARE.de; Source: Virginia Tech