Welcome to Illinois

Behind The Headlines on weakened immunity of caregivers

Posted in Media, Support services, Surveys by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on July 22, 2008

I wrote the other day concerning the BBC’s report about research that indicated that carers of children with developmental problems are more prone to infection due to weakened immunity. I just came across NHS Choices’ Behind The Headlines take on the research.

Behind The Headlines is designed to provide “an unbiased and evidence-based analysis of health stories that make the news” in order to reduce hype and misunderstanding. I had no idea this service existed before. It looks like a really valuable resource given often conflicting media stories on health issues.

As far as the BBC story/immunity research goes, Behind the Headlines states: “It is plausible that round-the-clock care for a developmentally disabled child is stressful, and that this stress can have an impact on the caregiver’s health. More research is needed to determine whether this means real-life differences in rates of illness between parental groups.”

It also points to a number of limitations in the research that the researchers have noted but the BBC report did not:

  • “The parents of disabled children were recruited through support groups. This could have introduced bias as these parents could have been more ‘stressed’ than the average parent carer.
  • This was a small study with a small number of participants (though the researchers address this by stating that it was not much smaller than other studies on this subject).
  • The researchers raise the possibility that other factors could have been responsible for the observed differences. However, they point out that their analysis took into account many of the obvious ones.
  • Of the factors that they did consider, the researchers state that child behavioural problems – particularly conduct problems – were largely responsible for the difference in response to vaccine between the two parent groups at month 1 (but not at month 6). The link between childhood behaviour and immune response is a complex one, and the results here suggest that it ‘mediates’ the link between whether a parent is a carer or not and how they respond to the vaccine, i.e. there is unlikely to be a direct causal link between caregiving and poor immunity.”

All in all it points to the importance of not taking news stories about medical research at face value but digging a little deeper for more details.


4 Responses

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  1. Stress test « Welcome to Illinois said, on July 22, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    […] More on this story here. […]

  2. Rickismon said, on July 22, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Yes, and in the case of Down syndrome, it is often hard to get enough subjects for a study to make it reliable.

  3. […] previously noted, “carers also face greater health problems as a result of the physical and emotional stress […]

  4. sandrar said, on September 10, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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