A systematic review of the psychobiological burden of informal caregiving for patients with dementia: Focus on cognitive and biological markers of chronic stress
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As the physiological impact of chronic stress is difficult to study in humans, naturalistic stressors are invaluable sources of information in this area. This review systematically evaluates the research literature examining biomarkers of chronic stress, including neurocognition, in informal dementia caregivers. We identified 151 papers for inclusion in the final review, including papers examining differences between caregivers and controls as well as interventions aimed at counteracting the biological burden of chronic caregiving stress. Results indicate that cortisol was increased in caregivers in a majority of studies examining this biomarker. There was mixed evidence for differences in epinephrine, norepinephrine and other cardiovascular markers. There was a high level of heterogeneity in immune system measures. Caregivers performed more poorly on attention and executive functioning tests. There was mixed evidence for memory performance. Interventions to reduce stress improved cognition but had mixed effects on cortisol. Risk of bias was generally low to moderate. Given the rising need for family caregivers worldwide, the implications of these findings can no longer be neglected.
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