Between 10% and 20% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI), with more than 240,000 receiving a TBI diagnosis since 2000. Brain injuries can fundamentally change a person’s personality, and these injuries may demand long-term medical and psychological care. It’s no surprise that caring for a loved one with a brain injury can be stressful, but a new study published in Biological Research for Nursing suggests that the stress can be severe enough to cause health problems.
The Challenges of Caring for Injured Veterans
The study looked at a small sample of 40 veterans and the spouses or partners who care for them. Researchers asked the caregivers about their levels of stress, grief, and depression. They also tested each participant’s saliva for tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) each morning. TNF-alpha is a protein associated with chronic inflammation and heart disease.
Caregivers reported levels of grief commonly seen among people whose loved ones have died. Many caregivers also reported high levels of anger. Though grief was not correlated with an increase in TNF-alpha, blame and anger were. Researchers did not test for heart disease or inflammation, but the presence of TNF-alpha does suggest that caregivers are at increased risk for experiencing these serious health conditions.
Caregivers need and deserve help, too, and this study suggests that caregivers who don’t get the help they need may experience serious health issues. The GI Rights Hotline can help you get access to services and ensure that your rights are protected. The Veterans Crisis Line also offers assistance to military veterans and their families, with assistance available via phone, text, or online chat.
If you’re struggling to care for a veteran and need help, therapy can prove invaluable. GoodTherapy.org can help you find the right therapist for your needs.
- Preidt, R. (2015, February 9). Loved Ones Caring for Brain-Injured Veterans May Face Health Risks. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/02/09/loved-ones-caring-for-brain-injured-veterans-may-face-health-risks
- TBI statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.braintrauma.org/tbi-faqs/tbi-statistics/
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