By Brendan Dabkowski
Researchers at Loyola University’s Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing in Maywood, Ill., found that some caregiver-partners of U.S. veterans with traumatic brain injuries experience a level of grief on par with that of losing a loved one.
Karen Saban, PhD, RN, APRN, CNRN, associate professor at the nursing school, conducted a pilot study, about which she co-authored the article “The Man I Once Knew: Grief and Inflammation in Female Partners of Veterans With Traumatic Brain Injury.” It was published in a recent issue of Biological Research for Nursing.
“The role of grief and loss has been underrecognized as far as how they play into feelings of depression,” said Saban, who said she could not find much literature that addressed how such feelings affect women caring for veterans with TBIs. “There are significant cognitive changes that result from caring for someone with a traumatic brain injury,” she said, adding that blame and anger associated with the grief of having to provide long-term care can take their toll.
Saban and colleagues surveyed 40 women who were the wives or partners of veterans with TBIs treated at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Ill. The researchers examined saliva samples taken from the women for TNF-a, which is a biomarker of inflammation and chronic disease. Participants who reported high levels of anger and blame in relation to having to care for their partners had elevated levels of TNF-a in their saliva, researchers found. These feelings might make such caregivers more susceptible to contracting inflammatory-related chronic diseases, Saban said.
“There could be feelings of resentment,” Saban said. “It’s normal for caregivers of any sort to experience those feelings of resentment. What complicates this is that some of them feel even more guilty about having these feelings of resentment toward their partners.”
This small group of caregivers was unique, Saban said, because it consisted of young women. “They could even be young mothers. They’ve got years and years ahead of them.”
Saban emphasized it was merely a descriptive study with a very small sample size. Her aim is to translate her findings into something more comprehensive. Saban intends to conduct further research and undertake a more longitudinal study on the topic that covers more data points.
“I think this work helps acknowledge that these feelings [blame and anger] would be normal with nurses, clinicians and other caregivers,” Saban said.
Brendan Dabkowski is a freelance writer.