“Caregivers are called hidden patients because when they go in for appointments with their spouses, very few people ask how the caregiver is doing,” said Wells-Di Gregorio, who works in Ohio State’s Center for Palliative Care. “These men are experiencing significant distress and physical complaints, but often do not seek medical care for themselves due to their focus on their wives’ illness.”
In these men undergoing chronic stress, the researchers said that it remains unclear whether the immune dysregulation causes more physical symptoms, or stress causes the symptoms and the impaired immune response.
Wells-Di Gregorio noted that the stress effect might have been even more pronounced than what they observed because disease-free spouses were more reluctant to participate in the study.
“We found that many were not willing to participate because they said they didn’t want to think about cancer again,” she said.