Spouse Carers of Alzheimer’s Disease Patients Report High Burden and Stress

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Spouse Carers of Alzheimer’s Disease Patients Report High Burden and Stress

Photo by: Ruslan Guzov via Shutterstock


Of the more than 5.4 million adults in the US with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, over 15 million family members serve as their carers at home. Around 40 percent of them are spouses of the patient.

Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is a difficult task and the spouse caregivers have reported high burden and stress, Science Daily reported. To help them cope with the demands of the job, especially communicating with a spouse whose memory is gone, carer spouses participated in a study conducted by the Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center run by the Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing.

Supporting couples affected by dementia

It was a 10-week in-home intervention to support couples affected by dementia.  Called Caring About Relationships and Emotions, the intervention used coaching and role-playing that involved the partners. The purpose of the intervention is to show that practice makes perfect in communicating with a demented partner.

In 10 weeks, CARE showed how creative ways of working with geriatric couples can change their communication behavior. It was designed to boost helpful communication in the caregiver and sociable communication in the recipient of the care.



It was designed to reduce disabling behavior such as criticizing or testing their partner’s memory which impairs engagement in caregivers and unsociable behavior such as not making eye contact with care receivers.

After the intervention, the researchers were surprised to discover that the care receivers improved more than the caregivers. Those diagnosed with moderate dementia showed statistically significant improvement in their verbal and non-verbal communication. They showed more interest and engagement, kept eye contact, answered questions, stayed on topic, and joked with and teased their partners.

Not experts

The intervention was introduced because caregivers, after all, are not experts in communicating with people suffering from dementia. Christine Williams, a professor and director of the PhD in Nursing Program in FAU’s College of Nursing, pointed out that sometimes the carer chooses strategies they think are helpful, but it may be ineffective. There are times when they give up communicating with their partners who are less verbal because the benefits of communication are not as obvious.



The caregivers were taught about the ongoing needs of their partners for closeness, comfort, inclusion, love, and respect which make a difference in how they perceive their spouses and how verbal and non-verbal facilitative communication can contribute to the well-being of the patient.

At the start of the intervention, the couples received a manual with 10 weekly modules on a wide variety of communication issues. The researchers had a weekly meeting separately with the carer and the patient, then with the couple together.

The researchers videotaped the conversation of the couple for about 10 minutes on a topic of their choice after their session. The videos were used by the researchers to assess the learning needs of the caregivers and to increase their communication awareness, knowledge about the decline of communication in dementia patients, the common reactions of carers to lost abilities, and how to tap communication strategies to maintain a caring relationship.

To measure the outcomes of CARE, Williams used a rating scale to analyze and score 118 10-minute videos of the couples. The week by week measurement for both caregiver and patient over several weeks provided a complete picture of the changes in the couple’s communication over time.

The intervention is important, she said, because while marital counseling is available, it is very different when one of the partners is losing the ability to communicate. “We don’t teach families how to communicate with someone with dementia and it is desperately needed,” Williams said.


Photo by: Ruslan Guzov via Shutterstock


Geriatric psychology

Interest in helping older people with memory problems is growing. The IFP reported that Sarah Henderson, a 21-year-old Georgetown native, is conducting a study on memory and aging as part of her undergraduate degree in psychology at Brock University.

Her study is focused on how involuntary memory changes with age. She found that it is one part of the brain that seems to stay sharp even as the patients grew older. Involuntary memory is when the mind remembers things without intention, such as sounds or songs that remind them of people or places.

Henderson’s participants in her study are people over 65 years old with no cognitive ailments because of her interest in what healthy aging looks like. She observed that most geriatric psychology research center on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Meanwhile, another recent study conducted by University of Main researchers tried to determine if depression affects older patients differently than young adults, and if the treatment should be the same, MedicalXpress reported.

The study analyzed five common misconceptions about depression in older adults initially evaluated 20 years ago by Dan Blazer, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. Emily Haigh, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Maine led the study.



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