Neutrophil function in young and old caregivers



Vitlic A, Lord JM, Taylor AE, Arlt W, Bartlett DB, Rossi A, Arora-Duggal N, Welham A, Heald M, Oliver C, Carroll D & Phillips AC (2016) Neutrophil function in young and old caregivers. British Journal of Health Psychology, 21 (1), pp. 173-189.

Objective The present study examined the effects of caregiving stress and ageing on neutrophil function in young and older individuals. Design As a model of caregiving, young parents (aged 38.3 ± 4.78) of children with developmental disabilities were recruited and compared to older caregivers (aged 70 ± 6.03), full time carers of a spouse with dementia. Age‐ and gender‐matched controls were also assessed. Methods Participants completed a questionnaire pack assessing health behaviours, psychosocial status and caregiving characteristics, and provided a blood sample for assay of neutrophil function (phagocytosis of Escherichia coli and generation of reactive oxygen species to E. coli). Results Despite scoring poorly on the majority of psychological and caregiving variables, neutrophil function in caregivers was comparable to that in controls and was unexpectedly higher in older adults when compared to younger adults overall. However, those caregivers who reported higher psychological morbidity (depression, perceived stress, poor sleep quality), and more burdensome caregiving showed some evidence of poorer neutrophil phagocytic function. Conclusion To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the effect of caregiving stress on neutrophil function in young and older participants simultaneously. Overall, neutrophil function was preserved in caregivers with neutrophil phagocytosis compromised only in those with the highest levels of distress. This suggests that, in future studies, more attention should be paid to individual differences among caregivers rather than caregiving status per se.

ageing; caregiving; stress; neutrophils

British Journal of Health Psychology: Volume 21, Issue 1

FundersEuropean Commission
Publication date29/02/2016
Publication date online19/08/2015
Date accepted by journal19/07/2015

People (1)


Professor Anna Whittaker

Professor Anna Whittaker

Professor of Behavioural Medicine, Sport