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The positive effects of training caregivers of Alzhiemer patients

Training Goes a Long Way for Alzheimer's Spouses
Linda Slota, Director

People with Alzheimer's Disease can be kept out of nursing homes longer if the spouses who are taking care of them are given better support and counseling, a new study reports. The researchers, writing in Neurology, say the savings in medical costs would be substantial. But that is not the only reason to adopt the practice, said the lead author, Mary S. Mittleman of the New York University School of Medicine. After counseling, "the families understand how best to support the caregiver," Dr. Mittleman said. "And the caregivers understand what kinds of help are reasonable to ask for and how to ask for help and how to accept help." When a family member is given a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, the spouse is often alone on an arduous road that can lead to stress, depression, poor health and eventually a decision that only a nursing home can handle the patient. While Alzheimer's patients are challenging, epecially when they begin lashing out against those around them, the researchers said that giving the caregiver even a little training could make a difference.

For the study, conducted over a 19 year perod, the researchers tracked more than 400 men and women taking care of spouses with Alzheimer's. In half the cases, families received the usual attention, while the other half were given six individual and family counseling sessions and contacts to call if they needed advice.

One goal, Dr. Mittleman said, was to help caregivers learn not to take their spouse's outbursts personally. But the counselors also worked to teach family members how to communicate and support one another. It is not unusual for example, for a spouse to feel that no one is helping her, while a child may feel that his offers of help are not being heard. By the end of the study, the researchers found that patients whose spouses had been given the training entered nursing homes an average of 18 months later than the other patients. They also found that the spouses receiving counseling expressed greater satisfaction with the support they had and more tolerance for their loved one's symptoms.




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