Caregivers Of Veterans With TBI's May Be At Increased Risk For Chronic Disease

First Posted: Feb 03, 2015 02:50 PM EST

Researchers at Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing have found that caring for a loved one who may have dealt with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can increase the risk of chronic disease in the caregiver.

Statistics show that as of 2000, more than 240,000 members of the U.S. military have been diagnosed with TBI and close to 43,000 are considered to have suffered from moderate to severe TBI. The injury can oftentimes result in muscle spasticity, seizures, coordination impairment, significant cognitive problems and even personality changes.

However, there are also issues for the caregivers as well. Oftentimes, the guilt and shame from not taking care of an injured love one can cause chronic stress--increasing the risk of numerous health issues or exacerbating chronic conditions that may lead to an increased risk of early death.

"Traumatic-brain injuries can result in devastating physical and cognitive impairments," said Karen Saban, PhD, RN, APRN, CNRN, study co-author and associate professor, MNSON, in a news release. "Grief, anger and blame are common among caregivers who are left to cope with these profound disabilities and the loss of the person they once knew. These feelings may put these individuals at risk for inflammatory-related disease."

For the study, researchers examined grief and its association with the inflammation in 40 wives or partners caring for veterans who had suffered a TBI. Study participants were required to complete written measures of grief, perceived stress and symptoms of depression that provided morning saliva samples to help measure TNF-alpha--a substance that's associated with higher levels of inflammation and potentially chronic ailments.

Findings revealed that participants who reported higher levels of grief were comparable to those who had lost a loved one. Though this grief was not associated with TNF-alpha or inflammation in general, higher levels of TNF-alpha were found in those with high levels of blame and anger that is related to grief, which have been linked to a variety of health issues, including heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.

"This may assist clinicians in identifying caregivers who are at greatest risk for developing inflammatory-related health problems and managing them appropriately," concluded Dr. Saban. 

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal Biological Research for Nursing

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