]]>Alzheimer’s disease]]> (AD) does not only have a steep toll on the person affected; it can also cause considerable harm to the patient’s caregiver. AD caregivers must deal with their loved ones' memory loss, personality changes, and eventual inability to dress, eat, bathe, and otherwise care for themselves. Consequently, AD caregivers are at significantly increased risk for ]]>depression]]> and other illnesses. When family caregivers reach the point where they can no longer care for AD patients at home, placement in a nursing home is usually the next step.

In an article published in the November 2006 Neurology , researchers sought to determine whether providing enhanced counseling and support services for caregivers of AD patients would delay the placement of those patients in nursing homes. They found that caregivers who received counseling and support services were able to delay nursing home placement for about one and a half years compared to caregivers who did not receive these services.

About the Study

The researchers recruited 406 spouse caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. 203 caregivers were assigned to receive individual and family counseling sessions, encouragement to participate in weekly support groups, and the availability of telephone counseling. The remaining 203 caregivers were given usual care, which included resource information and additional help upon request. All caregivers completed assessments at regular intervals, answering questions about their psychological and physical health, as well as the physical health and functioning of the AD patient. The researchers noted when AD patients were placed in nursing homes over an average follow-up of 9.5 years.

The researchers found that caregivers who had received enhanced counseling and support placed their AD patients in nursing homes an average of 557 days later than caregivers who received usual care. Importantly, the delayed time to nursing home placement did not come at the expense of the caregivers’ well-being. Rather, the caregivers in the treatment group reported better tolerance for patient memory and behavior problems, fewer symptoms of depression, and greater satisfaction with support provided by friends and family.

How Does This Affect You?

This study found that spouse caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease patients who were given enhanced counseling and support were able to care for their AD patients longer while enjoying improvements in their own well-being.

As a caregiver, prioritizing your own well-being will benefit both you and your loved one. If possible, seek counseling and join a support group in your area. It is important that you schedule regular respite care so that you have time to relax and get a break from the demands of caregiving. If possible, ask friends or other family members for help. And talk to your physician about additional ways to minimize the emotional and physical impact of being a caregiver.