A new Penn State study shows caregivers who take relatives with dementia to an adult day care center are far less stressed than those days they do not. This can translate into better health long term, which will help keep that loved one at home for longer.
The study confirms what most family caregivers come to realize: adult day programs not only benefit those with a memory impairment but also the caregiver. It should bring comfort to those who have been reluctant to enroll a loved one because of guilt or fear their relative will be angry and/or reject them.
"Caregivers who live with and care for someone with dementia can experience extraordinary amounts of stress," said Steven Zarit, the professor who lead the human development and family studies research at Penn State.
"The use of adult day services appears to provide caregivers with a much-needed break that can possibly protect them from the negative health effects caused by chronic stress."
Often evidence of an improvement in well-being has been anectodal, but the Penn State study took a systematic approach to track caregivers’ responses on a daily basis. The researchers conducted eight daily telephone interviews on consecutive days with 173 family caregivers of individuals with dementia who use an adult day service. The researchers gauged the caregivers’ stress levels and positive events they’d been exposed to that day, whether or not their relative attended a day program that day.
The researchers then plugged responses into a mathematical formula to statistically reveal that caregivers were less stressed and less depressed on the days their loved one was at adult day care. They also were better able to weather the bumps in the road that come to anyone on such a long, difficult journey.
"Overall, our findings demonstrate that stressors on caregivers are partly lowered and mood is improved on days when their relatives attend adult day service programs, which may provide protection against the negative effects of chronic stress associated with caregiving," Zarit said.
Those negative effects include a higher risk of health-related issues caused by chronic and acute stress, such as heart disease and especially high blood pressure.