Study Reveals "Positive" Caregiver Coping Strategies Affect Rate of Dementia Progression
Utah State University (USU) today announced the results of a study presenting strong evidence that caregivers can promote higher functioning among persons with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia by modifying the patient's environment.
It has been published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and reported in the Huffington Post's Post 50 blog. Update: The Aging Care website, AARP blog and the Deseret News have also featured this research.
The Cache County Dementia Progression Study is the first published academic research to show evidence that environmental factors--such as aspects of the care environment--could slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The study offers hope for those trying to mitigate the effects of Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, which affects one in eight older Americans. It is the only disease among the top 10 causes of death nationally that, to date, cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
The study found that employing higher levels of "positive" coping strategies (e.g., problem-focused coping, seeking high levels of social support, counting blessings, etc.) slows patient decline as measured by the Mini-Mental State Exams. This exam is a global measure of cognitive ability that assesses orientation, attention, memory, language and visuospatial ability.
"This study is a groundbreaking event in the fight against dementia, including Alzheimer's, which has been so pervasively devastating for individuals and families, especially given the limited treatment options for patients and their families," said Dr. JoAnn Tschanz, Professor at USU and the study's lead author. "Except for psychiatric symptoms, few studies have examined how caregiver characteristics affect the rate of dementia progression, and our findings indicate significant associations between caregiver coping strategies and the rate of cognitive and functional decline in dementia."
Conducted in Cache County, Utah, by a team of USU researchers along with fellow researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the study assessed 226 persons with dementia and their caregivers semi-annually for up to six years.
"Greater use of problem-focused coping may be mutually beneficial for both patients and caregivers," said Dr. Tschanz. "Use of this coping strategy may translate into developing a care environment that is tailored to individual patient needs. Furthermore, other research suggests problem-focused coping has been associated with less emotional distress among caregivers. Such strategies may help caregivers cope with the stress of dementia caregiving while curbing the progression of dementia in their patients."
The study, entitled "Caregiver Coping Strategies Predict Cognitive and Functional Decline in Dementia: The Cache County Dementia Progression Study," was published in the January 2013 issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
The study's research team from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services included Drs. Joann and Brian Tschanz and Dr. Scott DeBerard of Psychology and Dr. Kathleen Piercy, Dr. Maria Norton and Dr. Elizabeth Fauth of the Family, Consumer and Human Development department.
The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging.