Objectives: This study investigates the psychological and physiological impact of caring for a partner with fronto-temporal dementia (FTD). Carers were expected to exhibit greater stress and poorer psychological well-being in comparison with non-carers, and suppressed mucosal immunity.
Method: Twenty-five carers and 36 non-carers completed standardised psychological assessments of perceived stress, psychological well-being, coping and social support. Levels of mucosal immunity were assessed in saliva samples collected over the 3 days of the study, alongside daily assessments of stress, arousal and mood.
Results: Informal carers as a group reported greater stress and poorer psychological well-being, but there was considerable variation, with some carers reporting better psychological functioning than non-carers. Immune levels were not suppressed in carers compared with non-carers; counter to hypothesis, there was a positive correlation between immunity and poorer psychological well-being.
Conclusions: This research suggests that caring for a partner with FTD increases distress and carers might benefit from psychological intervention. However, the variation in psychological well-being requires explanation. Furthermore, this first examination of mucosal immunity employing participants experiencing enduring stress suggests that, in contrast to previous research, enduring stress does not lead to suppression of mucosal immunity and may actually enhance it.