Caregiver Closeness and Alzheimer's
Republished with permission of Natural Standards Research Collaboration ©2009

According to a new study, Alzheimer's patients who have close relationships with their caregivers may experience slower mental and physical decline. These beneficial effects were similar to common Alzheimer's drugs, including galantamine (Razadyne®), donepezil (Aricept®) and rivastigmine (Exelon®).

In the Cache County Memory study, researchers have been studying more than 5,000 older adults since 1994 to identify potential risk factors for age-related dementia.

The authors evaluated a subset of 167 people who developed Alzheimer's disease and were being cared for by either a spouse or adult child. Patient evaluations, which included physical, behavioral, functional, and cognitive health tests, were conducted every six months for four years. The participants and caregivers were also asked about their relationships with the patients.

The researchers found that physical and mental decline was slowest among those who had the closest patient-caregiver relationships. In general, these beneficial effects were most apparent among patients who were cared for by their spouses.

It is unclear exactly why close relationships were linked to delayed disease progression. Growing evidence suggests that maintaining mental fitness and participating in social activities may help delay the onset of dementia. Some researchers suspect that lifelong mental exercise and learning may promote the growth of additional synapses, the connections between neurons, and delay mental decline. Other researchers argue that advanced education gives a person more experience with the types of memory and thinking tests used to measure dementia. Doing crossword puzzles, reading books and increasing social activities are recommended by healthcare providers.

Norton MC, Piercy KW, Rabins PV, Green RC, Breitner JC, Ostbye T, Corcoran C, Welsh-Bohmer KA, Lyketsos CG, Tschanz JT. Caregiver-Recipient Closeness and Symptom Progression in Alzheimer Disease. The Cache County Dementia Progression Study. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2009 Jun 29.

This article appeared in the August 2009 issue of the Integrative Medicine Newsletter for Natural Standard