Monday, January 21, 2013

Utah Study Shows Caregivers' Attitudes Make All the Difference

A new study by Utah-based researchers shows caregivers' attitudes make all the difference in how someone with Alzheimer's progresses through the disease.

"The caregiver has a huge influence on the person with dementia," JoAnn Tschanz, psychology professor at Utah Stae University and lead author on the study, said in an article.

"She said data suggest community support agencies are not utilized as much as they could be, and that getting people in touch with such options would be beneficial, as the organizations can help with some of the problem-solving," according to the piece in the Deseret News.

The ongoing study is trying to what those who fare better with Alzheimer's Disease have in common. And Utah is perhaps a good state to conduct such research since it has one of the highest per capita cases of Alzheimer's Disease. This is in part because it's an attractive state to retire and because many Utah residents remain relatively healthy later in life. Age is the biggest risk factor in Alzheimer's.

Researchers have been tracking 5,000 residents for 10 years to study their aging process. Tschanz's study focuses on 223 of those people who developed dementia. She wanted to see what role the primary caregiver played in how the disease advanced.

Overall health conditions, diet and nutrition, and basic demographics are environmental factors that can play a part in the outcomes of Alzheimer's disease, but so do a caregiver's coping mechanisms.

Positive coping strategies, Tschanz said, include problem-focused coping, seeking greater social support and counting blessings. Each helps to slow patient decline.

On the other hand, research found that caregivers who focused on negative coping strategies — such as avoidance, blaming themselves or others, and wishful thinking — resulted in more rapid decline in a patient's cognitive and functional measures, she said.

"If we could slow the progression of Alzheimer's and other dementias, there could be a huge cost savings, but there are also beneficial effects for loved ones," Tschanz said. "Caregiving in itself can be very stressful. It can take a toll on the caregiver's health. Being able to promote higher level of functioning over time would allow individuals to stay in their homes at lower costs to the family and the community."

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