Can a Close Caregiver Relationship Slow Alzheimer's Decline?

Close-up of senior couple focusing on worried woman

A study from Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests that a particularly close relationship with caregivers may give people with Alzheimer's disease an advantage when it comes to retaining mind and brain function over time. The beneficial effect of emotional intimacy was found to rival that of many drugs used to treat the disease.

"We've shown that the benefits of having a close caregiver, especially a spouse, may mean the difference between someone with Alzheimer's disease staying at home or going to a nursing facility," said Dr. Constantine Lyketsos, director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer's Treatment Center.

Lyketsos and colleagues at Johns Hopkins, Utah State, University of Washington, Duke University and Boston University studied 167 pairs of caregivers and Alzheimer's patients. The researchers met with them every six months for periods up to four years. At each meeting, the patients had tests of 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.
As time progressed, patients whose caregivers felt particularly close to them retained more of their cognitive function, losing less than half as many points on average by the end of the study on a common cognitive test, compared to patients with more distant caregivers.

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.

"We've shown that the benefits of having a close caregiver, especially a spouse, may be substantial. The difference in cognitive and functional decline over time between close and not-as-close pairs can mean the difference between staying at home or going to a nursing facility," says Lyketsos.


 SOURCE: Assisting Hand Home Care in association with IlluminAge, reporting on study from Johns Hopkins Medicine