What Caregivers Should Know About Cellular Age

Seniors woman with her caregiver at home

By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Those people who serve as caregivers—either for a family member or a loved one—face a series of challenges. Ensuring proper treatment for the patient is one of main ones. But another challenge is just as daunting: making sure that the caregivers maintain proper health for themselves despite the stress that comes along with their task. Sobering news was recently announced in a study by Ohio State University in conjunction with the National Institute on Aging: adult children caring for their parents, as well as parents caring for chronically ill children, may have their lifespan shortened by four to eight years.

The researchers in the study focused on an earlier finding that changes in chromosomes were to blame for the caregivers’ reduced lifespan. The team zeroed in on telomeres, which are regions of genetic material on the ends of a cell’s chromosomes. Over time, as a cell divides, those telomeres shorten and lose genetic instructions.

“Telomeres are like caps on the chromosome,” says Jason Shelton, Chief Executive Officer of Telomere Diagnostics, a molecular testing company. “As people get older, the telomeres shorten. It is all part of the aging process.”

According to the OSU Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, the study uncovered physical evidence that the effects of chronic stress, which is often part of the caregiving life, can be observed both at the genetic and molecular levels—the telomeres shorten, and the activity of an enzyme that usually works to repair damage the chromosome is reduced.

As a result, any caregiver truly dedicated to the well-being of their patient ought to be mindful of such a finding—and seek out tools to determine their “cellular age,” which can be estimated using the length of their telomeres.

Telomere Diagnostics was founded in 2010, a year after the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded for research that furthered our understanding of telomeres. The company recently launched TeloYears, a simple genetic test that estimates the cellular age encoded in the test-taker’s DNA so they can get a better idea of how well they are aging—comparing their actual age to their cellular age. The test analyzes a blood sample that is sent to the company’s laboratory in Silicon Valley, California, where a detailed report is generated that compares the patient’s average telomere length to others in his or her cohort.

“We believe the TeloYears test can give caregivers more information about how stress and other factors might be affecting the body,” Shelton adds.

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