Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 83–90

Alzheimer caregiver stress: Basal natural killer cell activity, pituitary-adrenal cortical function, and sympathetic tone

  • Michael Irwin
  • Richard Hauger
  • Thomas L. Patterson
  • Shirley Semple
  • Michael Ziegler
  • Igor Grant


The association between Alzheimer caregiving and natural killer (NK) cell activity and basal plasma levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), cortisol, β-endorphin, prolactin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and neuropeptide Y was determined in 100 spousal Alzheimer caregivers and 33 age-and gender-comparable control volunteers upon intake into a study of the psychological and physiologic impact of caregiving. The relationship between these physiologic measures and individual characteristics such as age, gender, medical status, severity of stress, severity of depressive symptoms, and caregiver burden was tested. In addition, the association between NK activity and alterations of the neuroendocrine measures was investigated. As compared to controls, the Alzheimer caregivers had similar levels of NK activity and of basal plasma neuroendocrine hormones and sympathetic measures. While older age and male gender status were associated with increased levels of ACTH, neither medical caseness, severity of life stress, nor severity of depressive symptoms was associated with alterations in any of the multiple physiologic domains. Classification of Alzheimer caregiver burden identified caregivers who were mismatched in terms of the amount of care they were required to provide and the amount of respite time received. The mismatched caregivers had significantly higher basal plasma ACTH but no change in other physiological measures, as compared to non-mismatched caregivers. NK activity was negatively correlated with plasma levels of neuropeptide Y but not with any of the other neuroendocrine measures. Based on this cross-sectional evaluation of NK activity and neuroendocrine and sympathetic measures, we conclude that most Alzheimer caregivers do not show evidence of altered basal physiology.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Irwin
    • 1
  • Richard Hauger
    • 1
  • Thomas L. Patterson
    • 1
  • Shirley Semple
    • 1
  • Michael Ziegler
    • 1
  • Igor Grant
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry (116A)UCSD/VAMCSan Diego

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