Close Caregiver Relationship May Slow Alzheimer's Progress

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Caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients who have an especially close relationship with their patients may have a positive impact on decline of the disease. The study, which was conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Utah State University, is believed to be the first to show that such a relationship may occur between a caregiver and an Alzheimer’s patient.

Many studies have explored the emotional and physical effects on caregivers of people who have Alzheimer’s disease. Until now, however, little has been done to understand how caregivers affect the functioning and well-being of the people for whom they provide care.

According to a report from the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving (“Families Care: Alzheimer’s Caregiving in the United States 2004”), most Alzheimer’s caregivers (87%) are helping relatives, and the most common caregiving relationship is between a parent and child (57%). Only 6% of the caregivers in the survey were spouses. This is not unusual, given that the average age of the Alzheimer’s patient was 78.

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In this latest study, Constantine Lyketsos, MD, MHS, and director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center, noted that a close relationship between caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients may influence whether the patients stay in their homes or go to a nursing facility. He and his colleagues arrived at this conclusion by evaluating 167 pairs of caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients.

The participants were evaluated every six months over a four-year period. Each evaluation included tests that assessed physical, behavioral, functional, and cognitive health. All caregivers were questioned about the caregiving environment and their relationship with their patient.

The researchers found that patients who felt especially close to their caregivers kept more of their cognitive and functional abilities longer compared with patients who did not feel as close to their caregivers. The feeling of closeness was greater in relationships between a spouse and patient than between child and patient. In fact, the decline in spouse/patient relationships was similar to that seen in patients who take Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, including galantamine (Razadyne), donepezil (Aricept), and rivastigmine (Exelon).

Sources: Johns Hopkins Medicine
Alzheimer’s Association and National Alliance for Caregiving

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