Recent research has focused significant attention on the impact of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) on family caregivers. Research studies indicate that family caregivers often demonstrate intensification of the following symptoms: depression, anxiety, hostility, marital dissatisfaction, and weight gain. In general, as the impairment of AD patients increases, caregiver stress also increases. However, as forgetfulness increases, caregiver stress increases, levels off, and then actually decreases to pre-impairment levels. Authors hypothesize that because cognitive impairment is inevitable and expected, caregivers are more prepared to deal with symptoms associated with forgetfulness than with other problems. The behaviors of AD patients that are experienced as particularly distressing include dangerous, unpredictable demanding, hostile, and manipulative behaviors. Whereas caregivers may tend to view the behavioral problems of AD patients as deliberate and/or directed toward the caregivers, cognitive and functional impairments are more likely to be seen as beyond the control of AD patients. Black caregivers appear to feel less stress when providing care for a relative with AD, perhaps because of the cultural value placed on the elderly. Researchers are beginning to study creative intervention strategies with caregivers. Promising intervention programs use cognitive training programs, the dissemination of information, emotional support, respite programs, and behavior management techniques to decrease caregiver stress and slow patient impairment.
Carrie Trent, ’97
Sponsor: Carolyn Enns