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Help Needed for Alzheimer's Caregivers

Patients, Caregivers Would Benefit, but Little Support Now, Studies Show
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Evaluating Intervention Strategies continued...

Meanwhile, caregivers in the comparison group received a packet of educational materials about dementia, caregiving, community resources, and safety. They also had two brief "check-in" telephone calls during the six-month study.

At the end of the study, caregivers in the intervention group reported better quality of life than those in the comparison group.

Race did not appear to be a factor in the response to intervention. But husbands or wives taking care of a spouse seemed especially likely to benefit from the intervention.

However, the number of patients sent to nursing homes was similar in both groups.

The researchers speculated that longer intervention might be needed to see a difference in this outcome.

California Study

The second study comes from researcher Barbara G. Vickrey, MD, MPH, in the department of neurology at UCLA, and colleagues. It was funded by the California Department of Aging, among others.

It looked at 408 home-based patients with dementia and their caregivers.

Just over half of the caregivers were assigned case managers to help them get needed services within both the health care system and the community. The other caregivers received no such help.

Not surprisingly, the patients whose caregivers had case managers ended up receiving more and higher-quality health and social services than those whose caregivers were left to manage with little help.

Scores on standardized tests measuring quality of life were also higher for patients in the case manager group.

The Public's Role

Both studies suggest addressing the needs of caregivers is integral to effective treatment of dementia patients, Covinsky and Johnston conclude.

"Caregivers routinely risk their financial, emotional, and physical well-being to provide care to their relatives or members of their community with dementia," they wrote. "It is time for the public to recognize their part of this social contract."

That means providing psychological and social support services for caregivers like the ones outlined in the two studies, Covinsky says, as well as time off in the form of home nursing care and more elderly day care.

"Something basic like having someone come in to help bathe or dress a patient can make a big difference," he says.

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