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Physiological and functional consequences of caregiving for relatives with dementia

  • Irina Fonareva (a1) and Barry S. Oken (a2)

Abstract

Background:

Chronic stress negatively affects health and well-being. A growing population of informal dementia caregivers experience chronic stress associated with extraordinary demands of caring for a relative with dementia. This review summarizes physiological and functional changes due to chronic dementia caregiver stress.

Methods:

A literature search for papers assessing effects of dementia caregiving was conducted focusing on publications evaluating differences between caregivers and non-caregivers in objective measures of health and cognition.

Results:

The review identified 37 studies describing data from 4,145 participants including 749 dementia caregivers and 3,396 non-caregiver peers. Objective outcome measures affected in dementia caregivers included markers of dyscoagulation, inflammation, and cell aging as well as measures of immune function, sleep, and cognition. Though diverse in designs, samples, and study quality, the majority of the studies indicated increased vulnerability of dementia caregivers to detrimental changes in health and cognition. Demographic and personality characteristics moderating or mediating effects of chronic stress in caregivers were also reviewed.

Conclusions:

There is accumulating evidence that chronic dementia caregiver stress increases their vulnerability to disease and diminishes their ability to provide optimal care. Clinicians and society need to appreciate the extent of deleterious effects of chronic stress on dementia caregiver health.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: Barry S. Oken, MD, Oregon Health & Science University, Mail Code CR120, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, Oregon 97239, USA. Phone: +503-494-8873; Fax: +503-494-9520. Email: oken@ohsu.edu.

References

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