OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to determine whether psychological well being as well as metabolic, neuroendocrine and immune functions were different in non spousal primary caregivers of disabled elderly than in controls.
SETTING AND DESIGN: We randomly recruited 38 primary family carers of over 65 year old recipients of health home care services and 37 controls stratified according to sex and age.
METHOD: Data were collected on psychological wellbeing (including anxiety, depression and self-perceived quality of life), on neuroendocrine and immune conditions (haemanalysis and metabolic signs, plasma ACTH, cortisol, prolactin, intra-lymphocyte content of beta-endorphins, NK cell activity and number), as well as on the incidence and severity of influenza disease during previous winter.
RESULTS: Caregivers showed greater anxiety, although mean scores did not reach pathological levels. Neither depression nor satisfaction on quality of life did differ significantly, nor differences in haemanalisis and metabolic signs were found, apart from leukocyte and lymphocyte number, which was significantly lower in carers. Plasma levels of ACTH, cortisol and prolactin, the intra-lymphocyte content of beta-endorphins as well as the NK cell number and cytotoxicity did not show significant differences. Incidence and severity of influenza episodes was also similar, whereas the duration of influenza disease showed to be significantly longer.
CONCLUSIONS: Non spousal caregivers of disabled elderly suffer from only slight alterations of psychological, endocrine and immune parameters, and do not respond very differently to influenza disease. This does not support therefore any generic privilege for them in the allocation of public support or respite services.