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Family caregivers: Higher stress hormone

BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 29 (UPI) -- The more agitated or restless a person with mild cognitive impairment becomes, the more stressed his or her family caregiver becomes, U.S. researchers found.

Lead author Tina Savla, assistant professor at Virginia Tech, said the more a caregiver's day is disrupted by the unsettled behaviors of a loved one, the more unable the caregiver is to meet or balance home and family workloads.

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In turn, this heightens the effect of elevated stress levels on caregivers' bodies, placing them at risk for current and future health problems, Savla said.

Mild cognitive impairment, a transitional stage between normal age-related cognitive changes and early stages of Alzheimer's disease, is characterized by changes in memory that may not interfere with everyday activities but can cause frustration and anxiety among family members.

Savla's team made phone calls to 30 spouse-care partners on seven consecutive days to find out how their time had been spent that day and their spouse's mood and behavior.

Samples of saliva were collected from the caregivers on four days to measure the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The study, published in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, found rising cortisol levels in caregiver samples.

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Dealing with the day-to-day issues of living with a person with mild cognitive impairment can allow little time for recovery and may tax one's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system and this dysregulation likely contributes to illnesses by further distressing the cardiovascular, metabolic and immune functions, Savla explained.

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