Losing a parent early in life impairs a person’s immunity throughout life, a University of Michigan study shows. It can lead to an increased risk of serious age-related diseases. Researchers studied the link between losing a loved one early in life and immune function in old age. Their study found that people who lost a parent or caregiver in childhood had lowered immunity in old age than those who did not experience such losses.
Cytomegalovirus and its role in the study
For the study, scientists studied cytomegalovirus, which affects about 80 percent of people in Europe and North America and 100 percent of people in Asia and Africa. Cytomegalovirus belongs to the herpesvirus family and can be activated in the human body when stressed or lacking nutrients.
The body has learned to live with this virus, not by destroying it, but by “calming” it down. Cytomegalovirus research has helped biologists recognize how the immune system changes as a person grows older.
Analysis and results of the study
Researchers used representative data from the National Health and Retirement Study of nearly 6,000 older adults. They examined the association between death or long separation from parents/guardians before age 16 and four measures of immune function in older adults: C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, soluble tumor necrosis factor and immunoglobulin G response to cytomegalovirus.
As a result, the researchers found that early orphaned older adults had lower immunity in contrast to those who had not experienced the loss of loved ones at an early age. In addition, the scientists concluded that cytomegalovirus appears to be particularly susceptible to trauma at an early age.
Psychological consequences of losing a parent
Losing a parent or caregiver at an early age can cause serious psychological trauma. A team of researchers from the United States decided to test how this could affect a person’s health in the future.
“Losing a parent or being separated from a parent may be associated with poorer educational outcomes, poorer well-being in adulthood, poorer health behaviors such as smoking and other chronic illnesses. Related to this is likely the deterioration of a person’s immune system in old age,” summarized Grace Nopper, lead author of the study.
Recommendations for parents and caregivers
The University of Michigan study underscores the importance of the role of parents and caregivers in children’s lives. The loss of a loved one at an early age can negatively affect a child’s future health. Parents and caregivers should provide children with stability and love to help them cope with potential trauma.
A University of Michigan study found that the loss of a parent at an early age can negatively affect a person’s immune system throughout life. Low immunity in an adult increases the risk of serious age-related diseases. Parents and caregivers should provide children with stability and love to help them cope with potential trauma.