Magazine article Science News

Elderly Caregivers Show Harmful Immune Effect. (till IL-6 Do Us Part)

Magazine article Science News

Elderly Caregivers Show Harmful Immune Effect. (till IL-6 Do Us Part)

Article excerpt

Seniors whose lives revolve around caring for their incapacitated spouses often feel older than their years. It may be more than a feeling, according to a new study.

Over a 6-year period, marital Samaritans caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's disease or another brain disorder exhibited a dramatic average increase in blood concentrations of a protein involved in immune regulation, concludes a team led by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser, both of Ohio State University in Columbus. During that same time, seniors with healthy spouses displayed a much smaller increase in blood concentrations of the substance, interleukin-6 (IL-6).

As people age, they typically produce IL-6 in larger quantities. Earlier investigations linked particularly high concentrations of IL-6 to heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, periodontal disease, and intensified reactions to viral infections (SN: 3/27/99, p. 199).

After an impaired spouse died, IL-6 concentrations in the blood of the former caregiver continued to rise at an elevated rate for as many as 3 years, the researchers report in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"In older caregivers, it may be that their immune system activity gets reset to a higher [and unhealthy] level and stays there for several years after a spouse's death," says Glaser.

To discern the IL-6 trends, the researchers obtained at least two blood samples annually from 119 caregivers and from 106 people with healthy spouses or who were widowed, separated, divorced, or never married. Participants, a majority of whom were women, ranged in age from 55 to 89. …

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