A new study suggests some of the most effective medications for chronic pain are the same medications that are used for depression.
At doses lower than those needed to treat depression, antidepressants can relieve chronic pain in conditions ranging from diabetic neuropathy, migraine and tension headaches, to osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
Experts explain, however, that most medications have significant associated side-effects and the ability to tolerate these side effects varies between individuals.
Side effects may depend on other medications an individual is using, or could be influenced by other existing health issues. Therefore, predicting the ability to tolerate such side effects could be crucial for the success of an antidepressant in treating pain.
This scenario is discussed in a recent article by Dr. Carina Riediger and colleagues in Dr. Timo Siepmann’s group at the University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus, in Dresden, Germany. The paper appears in the online journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
“Understanding adverse effects and their impact on patients’ quality of life is crucial in modern clinical medicine and poses a substantial challenge to clinicians who face a exponentially growing range of available medical therapies” said Siepmann, the principal investigator of this study.
To help physicians match a chronic pain sufferer to a suitable antidepressant, their group performed a systematic study and meta analysis of the reported adverse effects for a wide variety of commonly used antidepressant drugs, each with its own side effect profile.
These antidepressants fall into different categories based on their mechanism of action, such as tricyclic antidepressants amitriptyline (Elavil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor), and serotonin reuptake inhibitors venlafaxine (Effexor), duloxetine (Cymbalta) and milnacipram (Ixel), among others.
The study collected all reported adverse effects for these drugs in the clinical literature from the past two decades. These side effects ranged from dizziness, dry mouth, and drowsiness, to palpitations, weight gain, sexual and urinary dysfunction, and hypertension, to name a few. The researchers also took into account whether treatment was discontinued due to the severity of these side effects.
Researachers found that almost all antidepressants presented significant side effects, and no drug was clearly superior to others. However, clinical data also showed that some individuals might better tolerate certain side effects than others, and therefore, the authors recommend personalized medicine.
For instance, dizziness and drowsiness as side effects may not be acceptable for individuals who drive vehicles or operate heavy machinery. On the other hand, some sedation might be tolerated, and perhaps even be desirable, in a chronic pain patient with sleep disruptions or insomnia.
These results may help physicians improve treatment outcomes by better matching the health status of chronic pain patients to their antidepressant medication.
“Dr. Riediger’s work contributes to this understanding, but further research is needed to improve general treatment recommendations and enable personalized multimodal therapy which is tailored to the patient’s individual health situation and includes non-pharmacological strategies in addition to pharmacotherapy,” Siepmann said.
Emerging evidence suggests school-based mental health services are urgently needed to protect against suicidal thoughts among transgender students.
A new study discovered that nearly 35 percent of transgender youth in California reported suicidal thoughts in the past year, almost double that of non-transgender youth.
Experts explain that transgender youth and adults received unprecedented public attention regarding their lives and well-being in the last year. Moreover, in the context of public debates about bathrooms, the armed services, and other legal protections, there has been growing concern about discrimination and mental health for transgender youth in the U.S.
Although much debate on transgender issues has occurred, little high-quality, population-based research on transgender youth exists; this information is necessary to accurately document the health and well-being of this population.
To narrow this void, the new study is the first to use statewide representative data from the U.S. to document significantly higher risk of suicidal thoughts among transgender students in California.
Data came from over 910,000 high school students that participated in the 2013-2015 California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), and a weighted subsample of nearly 36,000 youth representative of the Californian student population. The CHKS is administered biennially by WestEd with support from the California Department of Education.
Nearly 35 percent of transgender youth in California reported suicidal thoughts in the past year, compared to 19 percent among non-transgender youth.
“It is crucial that studies of adolescent health include measures of gender identity alongside sexual orientation to better understand and create programs to address the needs of these youth across the United States,” said Amaya Perez-Brumer, M.Sc., lead author of the study.
The study also reports that higher rates of depression and victimization among transgender youth compared to non-transgender youth partly explain higher risk of suicidal thoughts among transgender students.
According to co-author Stephen Russell, Ph.D., “Like all students, transgender youth deserve to be safe and supported at school. These results show that reducing depression and victimization for transgender students should significantly reduce their suicide-related risk.”
The authors underscore that the results of the study should be understood as a first step in detailing the complexity of suicidal thoughts among transgender youth.
While findings support the need for school-based interventions that address depression and victimization, more research is also needed to understand the relationship between co-occurring psychosocial risk factors (e.g., anxiety, substance abuse) and suicidal thoughts.
Study authors explain that this research is only a beginning as the results may represent an underestimate of the gender identity-related disparity in suicidal thoughts. This may have occurred because the sample was limited to youth who were currently attending school in California.
As such, the researchers warn that youth who have been expelled or dropped out of school may be a more vulnerable population at risk of suicidality.
Notably, while transgender-specific mental health services are scarce and often inaccessible for adults, this barrier is often magnified among youth. This study highlights the urgent need to develop and implement school-based interventions that address victimization, train faculty and staff on the needs of transgender youth, and provide access to gender-affirming health care and mental health services.
New research discovers inadequate sleep at night leads to poor memory and increases the risk of depression, anxiety and stress.
The new U.K. study found that those who receive less than five hours of sleep a night found it difficult to function effectively during the day.
The sleep deficit was related to life challenges such as people forgetting to carry out tasks, struggling to remember where things were, and forgetting to do something they had set out to do such as post a letter or take medication.
In the study, University of Leeds psychologists Drs. Anna Weighall and Ian Kellar looked at data from a survey of the sleeping habits of more than 1,000 U.K. adults aged 18 to 80.
Results from the study were presented by Weighall at a meeting of the European Society of Cognitive Psychology in Postdam, Germany.
Weighall said the study was unique in that “A lot of previous sleep research has been based on lab studies – this is the first time we have surveyed people in their everyday lives.
“What is emerging is the debilitating impact of poor patterns of sleep. People who are not getting enough sleep are at risk of experiencing a much lower quality of life and it hinders their ability to function effectively when they are awake.”
Scientists have recognized that sleep is important for laying down new memories and in re-processing what is already “stored” in the brain, selecting what needs to be retained and what can be forgotten.
This study looked at the relationship between quality and quantity of sleep and the cognitive processes around memory and recall, as well as wider indicators of physical and mental well-being.
Researchers asked volunteers to fill out a questionnaire about their sleep patterns, memory performance, mental wellbeing and quality of life.
An analysis of the responses found a statistically significant relationship between poor sleep and reduced mental well-being, and a highly significant relationship between lack of sleep and an increase in everyday memory problems.
These relationships were even stronger in those who habitually sleep for less than five hours a night.
“There is now a very compelling case to say there is a strong relationship between getting a good night’s sleep and experiencing better health, well-being and memory function,” Weighall said.
The findings indicate that many U.K. adults are sleep deprived and that this presents a real issue for public health.
Kellar, a health psychologist, said sleep needed to be seen as a public health priority in just the same way as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and engaging in physical activity.
Although the standard recommendation is for adults to receive between seven and eight hours of sleep a night, it is estimated that one in four adults receives less than five hours sleep a night.
Source: University of Leeds
New research suggests the reason some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder while others do not may be because of molecular changes, specifically alteration in micro-RNA as related to gene regulation.
In a controlled study involving military personnel on deployment to a combat zone in Afghanistan, researchers from the Netherlands discovered evidence that blood-based miRNAs may be biomarkers for symptoms of PTSD.
The new discovery may offer an approach towards screening for symptoms of PTSD, and holds promise for understanding other trauma-related psychiatric disorders. However, given the small pilot study design, the findings will need to be validated, extended, and confirmed.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder which can manifest following exposure to a traumatic event, such as combat, assault, or natural disaster. Among individuals exposed to traumatic events, only a minority of individuals will develop PTSD, while others will show resiliency.
Little is known of the mechanisms behind these different responses. The last few years have seen much attention given to whether the modification and expression of genes — epigenetic modifications — might be involved. But there are several practical and ethical challenges in designing a research study on humans undergoing such experiences, meaning that designing relevant study approaches is difficult.
In the new study, researchers worked with just over 1,000 Dutch soldiers and the Dutch Ministry of Defense to study changes in biology in relation to changes in presentations of symptoms of PTSD in soldiers who were deployed to combat zone in Afghanistan.
In the longitudinal study investigators collected blood samples before deployment, as well as six months after deployment. Most of the soldiers had been exposed to trauma, and some of the soldiers had developed symptoms of PTSD.
MiRNAs (micro ribonucleic acids) are small molecules with chemical building blocks similar to DNA. Unlike the more famous DNA, miRNAs are typically very short, comprising only around 20 to 25 base units (the building blocks of nucleic acids), and they do not code; in other words, they do not specify the production of a protein or peptide.
However, they have very important roles in biology (every miRNA regulates the expression, and thereby also the activity of several other genes), and they are known to regulate the impact of environmental factors on biology. In addition, brain-derived miRNA can circulate throughout the human body and can be detected in the blood.
Differences in miRNA levels have been associated with certain diseases, such as some cancers, kidney disease, and even alcoholism. This regulatory role makes them also a candidate for investigation in PTSD.
“We discovered that these small molecules, called miRNAs, are present in different amount in the blood of persons suffering from PTSD compared to trauma-exposed and control subjects without PTSD,” said first author Dr. Laurence de Nijs (Maastricht University).
“We identified over 900 different types of these small molecules. 40 of them were regulated differently in people who developed PTSD, whereas there were differences in 27 of the miRNAs in trauma-exposed individuals who did not develop PTSD.”
“Interestingly, previous studies have found circulating miRNA levels to be not only correlated with different types of cancer, but also with certain psychiatric disorders including major depressive disorders.”
However, the researcher cautions that several steps need to be performed before such results can really have an impact on the larger field and in clinical practice. Nevertheless, the discovery of biomarkers may also provide novel information about the biological mechanisms underlying the development of PTSD.
“Most of our stressful experiences don’t leave a long-lasting psychological scar. However, for some people who experience chronic severe stress or really terrible traumatic events, the stress does not go away. They are stuck with it and the body’s stress response is stuck in ‘on’ mode. This can lead to the development of mental illness such as PTSD,” de Nijs said.
Swedish researchers find that a growing number of middle-aged adults between the ages of 50 and 60 appear to be seeking help for memory-related problems — often concerned they are in the beginning stages of dementia — but after testing, they are found to be quite normal.
“We are seeing a growing number of people who are seeking help because of self-perceived cognitive problems, but have no objective signs of disease despite thorough investigation,” said Marie Eckerström, doctoral student at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology and licensed psychologist at the Memory Unit of Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg.
These patients represent one-third of those coming to the memory unit at the hospital, and clinicians wanted to get an idea of who they are. The memory unit investigates suspicions of early stages of dementia in those who seek help.
For her study, Eckerström followed a few hundred of these patients, both women and men, for an average of four years.
These patients are often highly educated professionals who are relatively young in this context, between the ages of 50 and 60. When tested at the hospital, their memory functions are intact. However, in their daily environment where they are often under pressure to learn new things, they believe something is not right.
The link between self-perceived memory problems and stress was shown to be quite strong. Seven out of 10 in the group had experiences of severe stress, clinical burnout, or depression.
“We found that problems with stress were very common. Patients often tell us they are living or have lived with severe stress for a prolonged period of time and this has affected their cognitive functions to such an extent that they feel like they are sick and are worried about it,” said Eckerström.
“In some cases, this is combined with a close family member with dementia, giving the patient more knowledge but also increasing their concern.”
Perceived memory problems are common and may be an early sign of future development of dementia. Among the study participants who also had deviating biomarkers in their cerebrospinal fluid (beta-amyloid, total-tau, and phospho-tau), the risk of deteriorating and developing dementia was more than double. And yet, the majority of participants showed no signs of deterioration after four years.
“These individuals have no objective signs of dementia. The issue instead is usually stress, anxiety, or depression,” Eckerström said.
Only one in 10 patients with self-perceived memory problems only developed dementia during the study period. And while this is a higher percentage than the population in general, it is still low, according to Eckerström.
“It is not a matter of just anyone who has occasional memory problems in everyday life. It is more a matter of individuals who sought medical attention to investigate whether they are developing serious problems,” said Eckerström.
Source: University of Gothenburg
Children who are suspended from school are more likely to develop a range of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety as well as behavioral disturbances, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Medicine.
Researchers at the University of Exeter in England investigated the impact of exclusion from school among the general population and found that suspension may lead to a new onset mental disorder, and that, separately, poor mental health can lead to suspension from school.
The findings show that consistently poor behavior in the classroom is the primary reason for school exclusion, with many students, particularly those in middle and high school, facing repeated dismissal from school. Relatively few pupils are completely expelled from school, but the researchers warn that even temporary exclusions can exacerbate psychological distress.
The researchers assert that identifying and supporting children who struggle in class could prevent suspension and improve their success at school.
“For children who really struggle at school, exclusion can be a relief as it removes then from an unbearable situation with the result that on their return to school they will behave even more badly to escape again,” said Professor Tamsin Ford, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Exeter’s Medical School.
“As such, it becomes an entirely counterproductive disciplinary tool as for these children it encourages the very behavior that it intends to punish. By avoiding exclusion and finding other solutions to poor behavior, schools can help children’s mental health in the future as well as their education.”
Suspension is more common among boys, secondary school students and those living in socio-economically deprived circumstances. Poor general health and learning disabilities, as well as having parents with mental illness, is also associated with suspension.
The study involved analyzing the responses of more than 5000 school-aged children, their parents and their teachers in the British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys. The research team omitted children who had a previous mental disorder from this analysis.
The findings show that children with learning difficulties and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and autism spectrum conditions were more likely to be excluded from the classroom. In addition, during the follow-up, the researchers found more children with mental disorders among those who had been excluded from school, than those who had not been excluded.
The researchers conclude that there is a “bi-directional association” between psychological distress and suspension: Children with psychological distress and mental-health problems are more likely to be suspended in the first place but suspension predicted greater levels of psychological distress three years later.
“Although an exclusion from school may only last for a day or two, the impact and repercussions for the child and parents are much wider. Exclusion often marks a turning point during an ongoing difficult time for the child, parent and those trying to support the child in school,” said Claire Parker, a researcher at the University of Exeter Medical School, who carried out doctoral research on the project.
Source: University of Exeter
A new study from Brazil compares the benefit of medicinal therapy against low-intensity electrical brain stimulation for relief of depression.
Specifically, investigators attempted to determine if transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) is a comparable alternative to treatment with antidepressant drugs.
In the clinical trial, researchers at the University of São Paulo’s teaching hospital (HU-USP) and the Psychiatry Institute of Hospital das Clínicas (HC-FMUSP-IP), the largest general hospital in Brazil, compared tDCS to escitalopram (Lexapro), a common antidepressant medication.
André Brunoni, a professor in the Psychiatry Department of the University of São Paulo’s Medical School and colleagues randomly divided 245 patients with depression into three groups.
One group was treated with tDCS plus oral placebo, the second received sham tDCS treatment plus the anti-depressant, and the third received sham tDCS treatment plus oral placebo.
The tDCS treatment was administered in 30-minute sessions for 15 consecutive weekdays, followed by seven once-weekly sessions. Escitalopram was administered at a dose of 10 mg per day for three weeks and 20 mg per day for another seven weeks.
tDCS treatment involves transmission of very mild direct current stimulation via a headband with twin electrodes placed on the patient’s temples. Positioning the electrodes is important so that the current runs through the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – a brain area that displays diminished activity in depressed people.
In the trial, researchers found that tDCS treatment was less beneficial that oral medications.
“We found that treatment with tDCS was not half as effective as treatment with escitalopram and concluded that transcranial stimulation cannot be recommended as first-line therapy. The anti-depressant is easier to administer and much more effective. On the other hand, tDCS performed better than placebo in our previous studies,” explains Brunoni.
The discovery is important as about 12 -14 percent of the world’s population is estimated to suffer from depression. Moreover, given the ubiquity of the internet it is relatively easy to find self-help websites with videos showing how to administer tDCS at home.
“It’s very striking,” Brunoni said. “These sites that claim to show how to stimulate your brain represent a huge risk for patients with depression.
“‘Do-it-yourself’ solutions are strongly contra-indicated. In fact, they’re dangerous. I expect our study to have an impact on this phenomenon because we’ve proved there are adverse side effects and that it’s not as effective as many people think.”
According to the study, patients who received tDCS treatment presented with higher rates of skin redness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and nervousness than the other two groups, and new-onset mania developed in two patients in this group.
Brunoni stressed the importance of not confusing tDCS with other methods such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT involves a far stronger current — typically 800 milliamperes, or 800 times the current used in tDCS — and is designed to produce a controlled seizure.
Other differences include the fact that ECT delivers a brief pulse rather than a steady current.
“People with depression display cerebral hypoactivity, especially in this brain region but also in others,” Brunoni said. “The action mechanism of stimulation was believed to increase brain activity in this region, but no such effect has yet been proven.”
Other techniques designed to change the brain’s electrical activity include transcranial magnetic stimulation, transcranial alternating-current stimulation, deep-brain stimulation and focused ultrasound.
“Of these, only transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy are currently cleared by the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] for the treatment of depression, and deep-brain stimulation has a humanitarian device exemption for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder,” writes Sarah H. Lisanby, director of the Division of Translational Research at the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in an editorial in the same issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Lisanby believes the study performed in Brazil shows that parameters are needed to measure the functioning of tDCS.
Brunoni agreed. “There are no parameters that enable us to know whether the tDCS dose is right,” he said. “I know two pills are a higher dose than one. Moreover, some drugs can be measured in the bloodstream. The most common example is lithium. You can dose magnetic stimulation. In electrical stimulation, however, it isn’t what you see. It’s a very weak current that can be altered even by anatomical aspects in each patient.”
Brunoni is currently a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the University of Munich in Germany, where he plans to finish analyzing data collected from his clinical trial. He hopes the data will suggest if tDCS works better for a particular patient profile — as some believe those who have never experienced stimulation will show a better response.
He also plans to question the stimulation parameters to discover if a specific type of depression may respond more readily to the treatment.
Study findings appear in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Source: University of São Paulo
Emerging research suggests children are at a greater risk of sleeping poorly if their mothers suffer from insomnia symptoms.
Experts say attention to sleep challenges is an important health issue as sleep plays an essential role for adults’ and children’s well-being.
In the study, investigators from the University of Basel and the University of Warwick assessed sleep characteristics among nearly 200 school-aged children and their parents.
Researchers focused on the relationship between parents’ insomnia symptoms and their children’s sleep. Short sleep and poor sleep quality may affect mental health, learning, memory, and school achievement in children. In Switzerland and America, around 28 percent of adult women and 20 percent of men suffer from disturbed sleep.
Sleep was measured in healthy 7-12-years old children by in-home electroencephalography (EEG); around half of the children were born pre-term. In addition, parents reported their own insomnia symptoms and their children’s sleep problems.
As reported in the journal Sleep Medicine, researchers discovered children of mothers with insomnia symptoms fall asleep later, get less sleep, and spend less time in deep sleep as measured by EEG. However, there was no association between the fathers’ sleep problems.
It is possible that mothers’ sleep is more closely related to children’s sleep than fathers’ sleep. Researchers posit that this may occur because mothers on average still spend more time with their children than fathers. Therefore, the mother’s sleeping behavior has a stronger influence on the child.
When parents reported their children’s sleep, both mothers and fathers with sleep problems more often reported that their children had difficulties getting into bed and did not sleep enough.
Investigators note that several mechanisms could account for the relationship between parents’ and children’s sleep:
- Children may learn sleep habits from their parents.
- Poor family functioning could affect both parents’ and children’s sleep. For instance, family fights in the evening before bedtime may prevent the whole family from a good night’s sleep.
- It is possible that parents suffering from poor sleep show “selective attention” for their own as well as their children’s sleep problems leading to increased monitoring of sleep. It is possible that increased monitoring and attempts to control sleep may negatively affect sleep quality.
- Finally, children may also share genes with their parents that predispose for poor sleep.
Source: University of Basel
When parents divorce often the most important issue, and perhaps the most difficult negotiation, involves the children. Parents typically have strong views on legal and physical custody of the children and how the arrangements should be structured.
New research finds that children who live full time with one parent are more likely to feel stressed than children in shared custody situations. Perhaps surprisingly, this finding persists regardless of the level of conflict between the parents or between parent and child.
Investigators from Stockholm University’s Demography Unit believe habitation with each parent is important because children who spend most of the time away from one parent may lose contact with friends, relatives and even struggle with resources like money.
Previous research has also shown that children may worry about the parent they rarely meet, which can make them more stressed, said Dr. Jani Turunen, a child and adolescent mental health researcher at Stockholm and Karlstad Universities.
Investigators explain that the understanding that children who live full time with one parent are worse psychologically than children in shared physical custody has been previously shown, However, the new study is the first to look specifically at stress.
Shared physical custody is not to be confused with shared legal custody. Shared legal custody only gives both parents the legal right to decisions about the child’s upbringing, school choices, religion, and so on. Shared physical custody means the child actually lives for equal, or near equal, time with both parents, alternating between separate households.
Researchers analyzed data from the Surveys of Living Conditions in Sweden, ULF, from 2001-2003, combined with registry data. Sweden is a country that is often considered a pioneer in emerging family forms and behaviors like divorce, childbearing and family reconstitution.
Turunen believe the progressive Swedish environment may help other countries deal with comparable issues. Her paper appears in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage.
In the survey, a total of 807 children with different types of living arrangements answered questions about how often they experience stress and how well, or badly, they get along with their parents. The parents were also queried on how well they get along with their former partner.
Researchers discovered children living with only one of the parents have a higher likelihood of experiencing stress several times a week, than children in shared physical custody. This generally applied even if the parents have a poor relationship, or if the children don’t get along with either of them.
Study results conflict with a previous concern that shared physical custody could be an unstable living situation, which can lead to children becoming more stressed. However, many of the earlier concerns were built on theoretical assumptions, rather than empirical research, says Turunen.
What probably makes children in shared physical custody less stressed is that they can have an active relationship with both their parents, which previous research has shown to be important for children’s well-being.
As the relationship between the child and both of its parents becomes stronger, the child finds the relationship to be better and the parents can both exercise more active parenting.
In other words, living with both parents does not mean instability for the children. It’s just an adaptation to another housing situation, where regular relocation and a good contact with both parents equals stability, Turunen said.
Source: Stockholm University
Menopause is a challenging time for many women as hormonal changes can create a cascade of physical and mental health issues. Notably, experts explain that between 40 and 60 percent of women in perimenopause and early menopause face issues with sleep because of this physical change.
The majority also report hot flashes and night sweats, which can be disruptive to falling and staying asleep. Sleep deprivation can influence mood and also increase the risk for serious physical health conditions.
In a new study, researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that low-dose hormone therapy may be effective in easing sleep issues in this population. The goal of the study was twofold: find out how two forms of hormone therapy affect sleep quality and assess the ties between hot flashes, sleep quality and hormone therapy.
The study appears in Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society.
“Poor sleep quality over time affects more than just mood,” said Virginia Miller, Ph.D., director of Mayo Clinic’s Women’s Health Research Center and the study’s corresponding author.
“Sleep deprivation can lead to cardiovascular disease, among other health risks. There can be serious consequences — mental and physical — if you’re not getting quality sleep over a long period of time.”
The study looked at two forms of hormone therapy — oral estrogen (conjugated equine estrogen) and a patch (17 beta-estradiol) — to find out how their use affected sleep quality.
The participants were part of the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study, and all were recently menopausal women. The women self-reported on the quality of their sleep using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. They also recorded the intensity of hot flashes and night sweats during this time.
Study participants were found to have improved sleep quality over four years when using low-dose hormone therapy — twice the improvement of those in the placebo group.
Researchers also found that sleep quality improved with changes in hot flashes and night sweats, but Miller said it remains difficult to determine if the low sleep quality is caused by these symptoms or if they are a consequence of poor sleep.
“Menopause affects such a large portion of the population, so it is important to keep researching how we can best promote a woman’s overall health during this phase in her life,” Miller said.
Source: Mayo Clinic
Taking care of an ailing spouse is no easy matter, and the stress many Americans experience as a caretaker is extreme.
Yet University of Buffalo researchers noted that helping behaviors, which are at the core of caregiving, typically relieve stress. Indeed, the caretaking role is paradoxical as the draining demands of caregiving appear to conflict with the uplifting effects of helping.
Resolving that paradox was part of the aim of a new study by Dr. Michael Poulin, an associate professor in psychology and an expert in empathy, human generosity and stress. Poulin and his co-authors found that the strress of caregiving is eased when it is seen to make a difference and is appreciated by the spouse.
The findings of the study, led by Drs. Joan Monin, Yale School of Public Health, Stephanie Brown, Stony Brook University, Kenneth Langa, University of Michigan, and Poulin, appear in the American Psychological Association’s journal Health Psychology.
Poulin said more than 30 years of research shows that being a caregiver is among the most stressful, emotionally burdensome and physically demanding roles a person can take on. Spouses who are caregivers show decreased immune function, increased signs of physiological stress and are at greater risk for physical and mental illness.
Yet other studies, including much of Poulin’s own research, suggest that the act of providing help to somebody is typically stress-relieving and is associated with better emotional and physical well-being.
“The problem is that when you’re a caregiver, not all of your time is spent helping,” says Poulin. “Sometimes all you can do is witness the person’s state while being passively on duty.”
But previous research also confirmed that the act of helping in this context was associated with improving the caretakers’ well-being, a finding that was true even when general caregiving was broken downs into tasks, like feeding or bathing.
“This is what we wanted to get at,” says Poulin. “We knew that something about being helpful is good in these circumstances. But why? Is it just being active? Is doing something better than doing nothing? Or is it that doing something to improve another person’s well-being is what matters?”
The research team conducted two studies with spouses caring for partners with chronic pain.
In the first study, 73 participants reported caregiving activity and their accompanying emotions in three-hour intervals. This allowed the researchers to look at the amount of help given and how much that help pleased the spouse and subsequently affected the caregiver.
The second study involved 43 caregivers who completed a diary at the end of the day that detailed the help they provided and the appreciation they received.
The findings suggest that spouses caring for a partner feel happier and report fewer physical symptoms when they believe their help is appreciated.
“Spending time attempting to provide help can be beneficial for a caregiver’s mental and physical well-being, but only during those times when the caregiver sees that their help has made a difference and that difference is noticed and recognized by their partner,” he said.
“Importantly, this study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that it is important to target emotional communication between spouses in daily support interactions to improve psychological well-being in the context of chronic conditions and disability,” the authors write.
Source: University of Buffalo