Coping Is Crucial: Caregiver Well-Being May Slow Dementia

Article excerpt

For five years, George has cared for his wife, Judy, who is in the mild decline stage of Alzheimer's disease-the most common form of dementia in older adults. Some days are tough for George. Judy wanders, her personality becomes volatile and George admits he is stressed. Each day brings new challenges. For example, Judy recently became apathetic and listless, which worries her husband.

George could cope with this new issue in a number of ways. He could seek support from friends, or rely on his faith. He could ignore the problem, or blame himself for not being a better caregiver. He could look at the bright side or simply wish for better things. But George decides to tackle the problem directly. He imagines Judy may be bored, so he plans activities such as asking her to fold laundry every morning, and getting together regularly with friends.

George is using what researchers call a "problem-focused" coping strategy- that is, as each new stressor or issue arises, he seeks to reduce the source of the problem in a practical way.

The Caregiving-Dementia Link

Research on psychological stress from several studies (Cooper et al. in Journal of Affective Disorders 90, 2006; Mausbach et al. in American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 14, 2006; Kneebone and Martin in British Journal of Health Psychology 8, 2003; Li et al. in Journal of Affective Disorders 139, 2012) suggests that certain coping styles are associated with better or worse outcomes for the caregiver. Avoiding the problem or blaming oneself has been associated with worse emotional outcomes for caregivers of people with dementia.

Now research from Utah State University finds additional benefits of certain coping styles: How a caregiver copes with problems may affect the person with dementia.

The study, published in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry ( ru70f), included 246 people with dementia and their family caregivers, mostly spouses and grown children. …