Elderly Caregivers and Stress

Have you ever noticed how your body reacts to stress? New research shows that the body’s immune system is seriously weakened by stressful events.

William’s caregiving responsibilities aren’t stressful today — but that wasn’t always the case. For seventeen years, William took care of his wife, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Just all the things of daily living, dressing, she couldn’t do finally. Just taking care of those things.”

Doctors say everyday stresses such as caregiving can take a heavy toll on your immune system. In fact, research shows that elderly caregivers are not as likely to reap the same benefits of flu shots as elderly non-caregivers.

“Not just for the elderly, but stress in general definitely had an impact on the response to the vaccine. So the agents that these vaccines are designed to protect against, basically you might not have the full protection that you would need.”

Although William didn’t get any serious illnesses while caregiving, respiratory infections like pneumonia and flu are major causes of death among the elderly.

“It should raise the consciousness of the public about these issues so at least they’re knowledgeable about things they might pursue to make themselves less at risk for an infection or even worse.”

While you can’t always avoid stressful situations, you can avoid being stressed-out. One important factor in fighting stress is having people to turn to for support. Doctors also recommend simple lifestyle changes such as getting proper nutrition and sleep.

Vitamin A Supplements Help Growth Rate in Sick Kids

The Harvard University study involved about 690 children from Tanzania between 6 months and 60 months old who had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Twenty-four percent of the children were also suffering from malaria and 9 percent tested positive for HIV infection. Some children in the study received either an oral dose of vitamin A on their first day of admission, a second dose on the second day, and third and fourth doses four and eight months after they were discharged. A second group of children received placebo doses at the same times. Children were assessed for length, weight, and other measures of growth at the beginning of the study and again during monthly visits to the clinic.

After one year, results showed HIV-positive children under 18 months old who received vitamin A supplements improved in terms of length, while those who had malaria and were less than a year old improved in terms of weight. Children who lived in areas with poor water supplies also showed an improvement in length, and the supplements virtually eliminated the risk of growth stunting associated with persistent diarrhea.

Researchers conclude providing vitamin A supplements every four months to children under the age of 5 who live in areas with a high rate of infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria, and diarrhea could be an effective and inexpensive way to help these children reach their full growth potential.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, 2002;109;E6