Family caregivers are under a tremendous amount of stress. It is no surprise that when scientists went looking for a population that would likely record chronic stress throughout their lives, they used mothers of chronically ill children.
Compared to control mothers of healthy children, scientists Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel, whose research won the Nobel Prize, found that the mothers who spent years caring for ill children had shorter telomeres (caps to the chromosomes). When telomeres become too short, cells can no longer multiply, which is a very bad thing.
Studies show that people with longer telomeres are more likely to live longer and, arguably even more significantly, to have more years of healthy life. Over the past decade, scientists have found links between shorter telomeres and risks for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, depression, pulmonary fibrosis, vascular dementia, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
But the news is not all grim. Believe it or not, you can take steps for your telomeres to grow back. Comprehensive lifestyle changes – a healthy diet, stress management and exercise – increase telomerase activity. In particular, both vigorous exercise and meditation seem to protect people under high stress from the same degree of telomere loss that they might otherwise experience. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil – specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – also may influence telomere length. You can read "The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer" for more information.
Financial and legal issues in connection with your special needs child cause stress too. For assistance contact Karen B. Mariscal at KBM@Margolis.com.