Sequoia Senior Solutions Blog

Comments & Discussions Pertinent to Seniors and Their Families

Long-Term Stress Can Cause Immune Problems

Stress, ImmuneGuest Blogger Roy Ackerman


I was speaking with someone about some information she heard on Anderson Cooper.   While that show was about divorce (four key errors that will indicate you are bound to divorce), Dr. Gottman mentioned something that intrigued her.  That contempt (which is a form of stress) damages one’s immune system.

And, this has been known for a while.  Back in 2000, with a MacArthur grant, a group of researchers at Ohio State University found that stressful situations affect our immune system.  It turns out that stress disrupts the communication between various elements of our body- the nervous system, the endocrine system, and our immune system.  Once the chemical messages have been blocked, these three vital systems no longer can work in concert.

It seems that glucocorticoids (stress hormones) are produced continually in low amounts when the body is subjected to long-term stress.  These react upon the thymus (where lymphocytes, a critical component of the immune system, are produced) and also inhibit cytokine and interleukin productions (which affect the ability of our white blood cell functions).

So, why are we discussing that here?   Because, we know that caregivers have long-term stress issues.  Oh, they love the people for whom they care, but it’s still stressful.  And, those folks in the sandwich generation and older that provide care for loved ones have higher than average levels of cortisol (which is produced by the adrenal glands).  And, it is possible that this activity causes the adrenals to secrete fewer antibodies (which, in this case, were responding to the influenza vaccine).

In addition, some caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients (spouses) have been found to have lowered T cell activity. (To learn more about T cells in the immune system, check here.  It also has a good diagram.) These lymphocytes affect cellular immunity.  The problem is the caregivers affected most are those that have the least amount of additional help and the fewest number of friends.  (In other words, they were isolated, which augments the stress levels.)

We also know that massages reduce our stress levels.  And, data exists proving that massages are associated with more responsive immune systems.  (You can find a layman’s explanation here.)

So, these are all the reasons why caregivers need to insure they have some time off.  To recoup.  To reduce the stess levels in their bodies.  And, they need to insure that they have the time to interact with friends, which also elevates our general happiness levels.  So, they can stay healthy- and care for their loved ones.


stress immuneTo the world, you are one person; to one person, you are the world.
More words of wisdom (one would hope) at or
Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A.
The Adjuvancy LLC
Post Office Box 25766
Alexandria, Virginia 22313-5766
703.548.1343 voice
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  1. Hi Roy,

    Thanks for the important reminder to take time off! I am a caregiver for my Mom who has Alzheimer’s and it’s can be an isolating experience. In a month, I am going to visit my brother & am looking forward to having fun. I’ll be celebrating my birthday, too. :-)

  2. So key is that we give caregivers the time they need to recoup and renew themselves so that they can continue to give care to the ones they love. In order to give to others, you must also take care of yourself. It’s not selfish to do this, it’s beneficial to the others. Being in stressful situations we forget that our bodies take a toll for these issues, our mind, our spirit needs a break. Thanks, Roy. This is a great article.

  3. Great article, Roy! Full of useful data of how these substances are produced and how they interact in our body. Not too much data so it requires a college degree, but enough to provide a very good description (basal knowledge) for the understanding of how our immune system and stress are related.

  4. Stanton Lawson

     /  April 23, 2012

    Yes, Nicole, you need to take time off. That’s why places like Sequoia Senior Solutions offers respite care for caregivers. If you need someone to take care of your mother, you should be able to find some help for a visit and a birthday. Have a great one. Please come and visit us again for more help with your situation.–Stan

  5. Stanton Lawson

     /  April 23, 2012

    You are so right, Jennifer, taking care of the caregiver is very important. That’s why we stress destressing. If the caregiver gets sick often, it is important for us to stop and do a stress check. Much of the reason we write about stress is to help people realize that they are not alone and that businesses like Sequoia Senior Solutions are here to help them. Thanks for coming by. We look forward to hearing from you again.–Stan

  6. Stanton Lawson

     /  April 23, 2012

    Welcome, Gustavo, and thank you for your insightful comment. Our purpose on this blog site is to help everyone understand how to be a better caregiver or how to be a more patient client while offering useful information for anyone in need of support going through a hard time in life. You seem to understand what Roy was aiming for completely. Thanks for visiting and we hope to see you again soon.–Stan

  7. Nice post! Stress is such a difficult thing to manage, and it’s so true that time for oneself is so important, especially for those who spend so much time caring for others.

  8. Stanton Lawson

     /  April 23, 2012

    Suerae, even mothers with teenaged kids can suffer from illnesses brought on by stress. It might be the body’s way of forcing a person to rest. Unfortunately, our charges need us even when we are unavailable to them. That’s why there are helpers like those we supply at Sequoia Senior Solutions for our clients and others can find the help they need through church groups, Angie’s List or online. Thank you for stopping by.–Stan

  9. Hi Stan,

    I have a family member coming to town to help take care of my Mom. :-)

  10. Essential message, Roy. And if you are not a caretaker, consider relieving one so they can take that time off. My Mom was a caretaker for my Dad. I came from out-of-state to care for Dad so Mom could take a trip to see relatives. It was only 5 days, but I told my siblings that every one of them should experience it so they better understood what Mom was coping with.

    I love my Dad enormously, but it was stressful. It also was the last time where it was just my Dad and me before he passed away. I will cherish those days always.

  11. Stanton Lawson

     /  April 25, 2012

    Good idea, Nicole. I’m sure that you will be able to enjoy yourself more knowing she is well taken care of. Thanks for the update.

  12. Stanton Lawson

     /  April 25, 2012

    Cathy, I am so glad that you had that time with your father. I know it was very difficult and your mother was a wonderful person for being able to do that all the time. I hope your siblings each got a chance to visit with your father before he died. Thank you so much for responding.–Stan

  1. Stress affects our ability to respond to immune challenges

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