Caring for our carers

My simple message with this blog is that we need to care for the carers. Undoubtedly the individual with pain or ill-health is suffering, but so are the carers who may be partners, family members and friends. They may also be professional carers who are not immune to the stress of looking after someone.

In brief, here are some of the reasons why carers will suffer:

  • Seeing a loved one in pain
  • Feeling helpless
  • Mirroring pain — it is not uncommon for someone to feel pain in their body having observed another person in pain. Biologically this may be quite useful as a learning tool, similar to learning that touching the oven causes a burn injury; ‘I won’t do that again’.
  • Becoming absorbed in negative thought patterns
  • The physical demands, including the number of hours dedicated to caring and what it involves; e.g./ helping to move the patient, household chores — this often in addition to their own needs
  • Disturbed nights
  • A lack of respite
  • Feeling a lack of support
  • Financial worries
  • Own relationship issues

There are many other reasons, however the key point is that the demands upon carers are immense. One of the biological consequences is inflammatory activity in the body due to chronic stress. This inflammation underpins and affects the widespread aches and pains, the compromised health (feeling under the weather), limited resilience and motivation, varied and unpredictable emotional responses and difficulty thinking with clarity — see the interesting study below.

Carers are vital for both the person in pain but also for society at large. There are not enough resources to provide for all those with chronic pain and health issues on a day to day basis and hence we need to care for our carers.

For this reason, I offer treatment, training and mentoring sessions for carers. Ranging from the treatment of aches and pains to creating ways of constructively adding to the therapy for their charge, we also work upon resilience, problem solving and motivational techniques. These strategies are for that person to cultivate their own wellbeing, but also that of the person they are caring for at home. Partners commonly ask how they can be involved in helping the patient move forward, and I gladly reach them about pain, health and what they can do to contribute in a potent way.

If you are a carer, or would like your carer to be more involved, contact me to book the initial session: 07518 445493

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Greater inflammatory activity and blunted glucocorticoid signaling in monocytes of chronically stressed caregivers. Miller et al (2014).

Abstract
Chronic stress is associated with morbidity and mortality from numerous conditions, many of whose pathogenesis involves persistent inflammation. Here, we examine how chronic stress influences signaling pathways that regulate inflammation in monocytes. The sample consisted of 33 adults caring for a family member with glioblastoma and 47 controls whose lives were free of major stressors. The subjects were assessed four times over eight months. Relative to controls, caregivers’ monocytes showed increased expression of genes bearing response elements for nuclear-factor kappa B, a key pro-inflammatory transcription factor. Simultaneously, caregivers showed reduced expression of genes with response elements for the glucocorticoid receptor, a transcription factor that conveys cortisol’s anti-inflammatory signals to monocytes. Transcript origin analyses revealed that CD14+/CD16- cells, a population of immature monocytes, were the predominate source of inflammatory gene expression among caregivers. We considered hormonal, molecular, and functional explanations for caregivers’ decreased glucocorticoid-mediated transcription. Across twelve days, the groups displayed similar diurnal cortisol profiles, suggesting that differential adrenocortical activity was not involved. Moreover, the groups’ monocytes expressed similar amounts of glucocorticoid receptor protein, suggesting that differential receptor availability was not involved. In ex vivo studies, subjects’ monocytes were stimulated with lipopolysaccharide, and caregivers showed greater production of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 relative to controls. However, no group differences in functional glucocorticoid sensitivity were apparent; hydrocortisone was equally effective at inhibiting cytokine production in caregivers and controls. These findings may help shed light on the mechanisms through which caregiving increases vulnerability to inflammation-related diseases

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