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Anatomy of an Illness: Control from a caregiver’s perspective

Caregivers of loved ones with chronic illnesses experience an uncontrollable challenge with potentially negative behavioral and medical consequences. Extensive research has demonstrated immune and endocrine regulation can be significantly disrupted by negative behavioral factors based on both animal models and human studies. However, fewer studies have focused on how psychosocial interventions might reverse the negative consequences of stressors such as caregiving. The distress of caring for individuals with cancer has only recently begun to receive attention. These interventions addressing caregiver distress are rare overall and caregivers of patients receiving hematopoietic stem cell transplants (HSCT) have received even less attention. HSCT caregivers report feelings of loss of control. Animal studies suggest that control over aversive events can mitigate the negative consequences of stressors. Caregivers of allogeneic HSCT patients for blood cancers must be available 24/7 for three months or longer following stem cell infusion to closely monitor the recipients’ health and well-being. Does establishing a greater sense of control have positive impacts on caregivers? A randomized control trial of a cognitive behavioral stress management intervention for allogeneic HSCT caregivers is briefly described. A model of caregiver mental health which may potentially impact the patient’s quality of life is proposed. These relationships exist in a complex system that includes genetic influences, sex, social environment, and prior experience. This system fits well within recent formulations of a “complexity science” approach to health and well-being.

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Brain Behavior and Immunity

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