Loved Ones Caring for Brain-Injured Veterans May Face Health Risks

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MONDAY, Feb. 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Some loved ones who care for veterans with brain injuries may be at increased risk for chronic health problems, a new study indicates.

"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.

In the study, the researchers looked at 40 wives or partners caring for U.S. veterans with traumatic brain injuries. The caregivers provided information about their levels of grief and stress, as well as symptoms of depression.

Each morning, their saliva was tested for levels of TNF-alpha, a substance associated with inflammation and chronic conditions such as heart disease.

The caregivers reported having levels of grief that were similar to those of people who have lost a loved one, but grief was not linked with TNF-alpha levels or inflammation in general, the study found.

However, elevated levels of TNF-alpha were detected in caregivers who said they had high levels of blame and anger associated with their grief, according to the study published recently in the journal Biological Research for Nursing.

While the study showed an association between feelings of anger and blame and levels of a marker for heart disease and other inflammation-related conditions, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.

"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."

Since 2000, more than 240,000 U.S. military personnel have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. Of these, nearly 43,000 have a moderate or severe brain injury, according to the news release.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about traumatic brain injury.