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Dementia: Family Caregiving Increases Risk for Spouses
Husbands or wives who care for spouses with dementia are six times more likely to develop the memory-impairing condition than those whose spouses don't have it, according to results of a 12-year study.
To get some answers, Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor Peter Rabins and a team led by associate professor Maria Norton, of Utah State University, examined 1,221 married couples ages 65 or older. These individuals were part of the Cache County (Utah) Memory Study, which has identified over 900 persons with dementia in the community since 1995. All of the study participants live in Cache County, whose residents topped the longevity scale in the 1990 United States census.
Starting in 1995, the researchers began screening volunteers for dementia. The volunteers first completed questionnaires to evaluate their cognitive status. Those whose questionnaires suggested possible dementia underwent a comprehensive clinical assessment administered by specially trained nurses and technicians. Finally, a team led by a geriatric psychiatrist and a neuropsychologist evaluated the findings and assigned a diagnosis of dementia where appropriate.
In the sample of 2,442 married persons, the researchers diagnosed 255 individuals with dementia and discovered that individuals whose spouses had already been diagnosed were six times as likely to develop the condition themselves compared to those without an affected spouse.
Norton says the long-term nature of the new research makes the results different from earlier "snapshot" studies showing memory loss in spousal caregivers. "We know that the declines in memory we saw were real and persistent, not just a point in time where they weren't performing well on tests," she says.
Rabins, Norton, and their colleagues speculate that the stress of caregiving might be responsible for the increased dementia risk for spouses, although more research is need to identify what that mechanism might be. If their hunch is correct, Rabins says, doctors who treat dementia patients should pay more attention to efforts to decrease stress for spousal caregivers.
"Caregiving has positive aspects, as well as negative ones. If we can boost the positive aspects and reduce the negative ones, we may be able to reduce a caregiver's risk of developing dementia," Rabins says.
Researchers have long been interested in how taking care of a spouse with dementia affects caregivers. Most previous studies have focused on the emotional distress caretakers often experience, rather than how their cognitive abilities might be affected.
REHACARE.de; Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
- More about the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions at www.hopkinsmedicine.org
( Source: REHACARE.de )