Program helps Alzheimer caregivers stay healthy

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NEW YORK, Sep 19 (Reuters) People caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease benefit not only emotionally but also physically from a counseling and support program developed at New York University Medical Center.

In an ongoing study of 406 people caring at home for a spouse with Alzheimer's disease, caregivers who participated in the 4-month program rated their physical health as significantly better than caregivers in a comparison group who, serving as controls, were provided with information only and help upon request. The findings are published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The program consisted of six sessions of individual and family counseling, support groups, and telephone pep talks as needed. With the intervention, ''self-rated physical health of the caregivers is significantly better for at least a year,'' Dr Mary S Mittelman of New York University told Reuters Health. ''It starts to get better within 4 months of starting the intervention, and that's the time during which the caregivers get the six sessions of individual and family counseling.'' The benefits go beyond a reduction in depression among the caregivers in the treatment group; ''it's something in addition to that,'' Mittelman noted. ''We are not entirely sure what that is, but it seems that having more support from family members and a better understanding of what they are going through helps the caregiver take better care of themselves and so their health improves.'' Mittelman and co-developers of the NYU Caregiver Intervention program previously found that the program eased depression of the caregivers and delayed nursing home placement of the ailing spouse, compare to usual care. Their latest findings show that the intervention also helps maintain the physical health of Alzheimer's caregivers.

Mittelman also noted that, after the 4-month intervention, the caregivers in the intervention group were encouraged to join weekly support groups under the auspices of the Alzheimer's Association.

''I think it was crucial that the caregivers knew that they could get ongoing support, even if they didn't act on it,'' she said.


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