Close Caregiver Relationship May Slow Decline

photo: caregiver with patient

The benefits of having a close
caregiver may be substantial;
© Pixelio

The beneficial effect of emotional intimacy that the researchers saw among participants was on par with some drugs used to treat the disease.

Researchers have long been interested in the relationships between caregivers and Alzheimer's disease patients, with many studies focusing on the well-being of caregivers. However, little was known about the converse relationship—how caregivers affect the well-being of people with Alzheimer's disease.

To find out, Constantine Lyketsos, director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer's Treatment, and colleagues examined 167 pairs of caregivers and Alzheimer's patients. The pairs were recruited from the Cache County (Utah) Dementia Progression Study, which has tracked hundreds of people with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia since 1994.

Starting in 2002, the researchers met with patient-caregiver pairs in their homes every six months for periods up to four years. At each meeting, the patients underwent a battery of tests to assess physical, cognitive, functional and behavioral health. The researchers also interviewed the caregivers — spouses, adult children or adult children-in-law — about the caregiving environment and gave them a survey to assess how close their relationships were with the patients.

Patients with whose caregivers felt particularly close to them retained more of their cognitive function over the course of the study, losing less than half as many points on average by the end of the study on a common cognitive test called the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE).

The "closeness effect" was heightened for pairs in which the caregiver was a spouse, as opposed to an adult child or in-law. Patients with close spouses declined the slowest overall, with scores on the MMSE showing changes over time similar to patients participating in recent clinical trials for FDA-approved Alzheimer's drugs called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.; Source: John Hopkins Medical Institutions