The wide variety of ways traumatic brain injury impairs and holds back those who have been injured are well-documented, but new research shows TBI can also have a distinct impact on those who care for the injured.
A new study published in the journal Biological Research for Nursing shows some loved ones who care for veterans with brain injuries are at a heightened risk for chronic health problems.
“Traumatic brain injuries can result in devastating physical and cognitive [mental] impairments,” study co-author Karen Saban, an associate professor in the School of Nursing at Loyola University Chicago, said in a university 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,” she explained.
For the study, the researchers examined 40 wives or partners providing care for U.S. veterans who experienced TBI. Participants were questioned about their levels of grief and stress, as well as undergoing screening for symptoms of depression.
The researchers took saliva samples each morning to test for levels of TNF-alpha, a substance associated with inflammation and chronic conditions such as heart disease.
The findings showed caregivers largely reported having levels of grief similar to those who had lost a loved one, but the grief could not be linked to TNF-alpha levels or general inflammation.
While grief could not be linked to TNF-alpha, the researchers did observe elevated TNF-alpha levels in caregivers who reported high levels of blame and anger associated with their grief. Despite this observation the findings are not strong enough to prove a cause-and-effect link between feelings of blame or anger and TNF-alpha.
“This research gives us a better understanding of the relationship between blame, anger, grief and inflammation,” Saban said in the news release. “This may assist clinicians in identifying caregivers who are at greatest risk for developing inflammatory-related health problems and managing them appropriately.”