Dementia Caregivers need Care too

by Leonard Holmes. Ph.D.

Caring for a patient with Alzheimers Disease or another dementia can be a frustrating and stressful experience for family caregivers. A 2003 study looked at a way to help dementia caregivers. The researchers evaluated the effectiveness of a "psychosocial intervention model" that was designed to help family caregivers cope and feel more positive about their caregiving. Even though the study is a few years old, its results are relevant today.

The study found that carefully designed psychosocial interventions can make life better for those caring for loved ones with dementia. The carefgivers were trained in problem solving, behavior management techniques, improving coping skills, improving their own diet and exercise, and making time for pleasant events and leisure activities. They reported that they experienced reduced stress, felt more positive about their caregiving roles, and experienced increased satisfaction with leisure activities.

The researchers worked to create culturally appropriate training for the white and African American caregivers in the study, which was conducted in Forida and Alabama. The researchers stated that race and culture are known to affect the experience of caregiving, but no previous studies evaluated the effectiveness of a caregiver intervention across racial, ethnic and cultural lines.

Researchers studies two sets of caregivers who were exposed to two different models of intervention.

One group was given “skills training,” consisting of learning management skills related to their loved one’s dementia-related behavorial problems (such as wandering and repetitive questions), as well as problem solving skills and methods to increase their social support. The skills training group also had workshop training, 16 in-home training sessions over one year, instructive videos, and “homework.”

A second group of caregivers was given minimal support that included support through telephone calls and single page fact sheets.
Caregivers in both groups - across cultural and racial lines - reported significantly fewer problem behaviors, less “behavorial bother,” and increased satisfaction with leisure activities. Caregivers in the more intensive group reported the most improvement in reducing stressors associated with caregiving.

The authors also concluded that African American caregivers were more responsive than others to the therapeutic, one-on-one relationship provided in the more intensive training sessionsand they reported a significant increase in the positive aspects of caregiving.

The authors hope that their study suggests a model that can be used by others. Similar techniques can be used by home health workers, social workers, and nurses.

Reference: Haley, et. al., The Gerontologist. August, 2003 (Vol. 43, No. 4, 568-579)