FRIDAY, May 7, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The long-term risk of depression among people taking care of spouses with Alzheimer's disease can be greatly reduced through counseling and support, says a study in the current issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
The New York University School of Medicine study found short-term intensive counseling, along with readily available support from counselors, had a positive impact on the caregivers that lasted more than three years after the initial counseling sessions ended.
This positive effect on the caregivers continued even after a spouse with Alzheimer's died or was placed in a nursing home.
The study included 406 spouse caregivers of people with Alzheimer's disease. Half of them received enhanced counseling. This included two individual and four family counseling sessions to start, along with weekly support groups.
After the initial period of counseling, those in the enhanced group were encouraged to contact counselors whenever they needed help coping with a crisis or to get help with other issues related to taking care of a person with Alzheimer's.
The other group of spouses received the usual support offered to families of people with Alzheimer's disease. These people received information about resources and could choose to take part in support groups and use the crisis counseling. But they didn't receive formal counseling and their family members had no contact with counselors.
At the start of the study, both groups had comparable levels of depressive symptoms. After a year, 45.1 percent of those in the usual support group had symptoms of clinical depression, compared with 29.8 percent of the spouses in the enhanced group.
Through the third year of follow-up, there were significant differences in the mean number of depressive symptoms between the two groups. Those differences gradually faded over a five-year follow-up period.
The American Geriatrics Society has more about Alzheimer's caregivers.