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Caregiver Closeness May Slow Alzheimer's Disease Progress

Closer relationship -- especially with spouse caregiver -- may affect Alzheimer's symptoms

MONDAY, July 27 (HealthDay News) -- Individuals with Alzheimer's disease who have a closer relationship with their caregiver -- especially when the caregiver is a spouse -- may have a slower progression of cognitive and functional symptoms, according to research published online June 29 in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

Maria C. Norton, Ph.D., of Utah State University in Logan, and colleagues analyzed data from 167 people with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers. Participants were examined every six months for up to six visits; caregivers responded to a relationship closeness survey and patients were tested for symptom progression and functional impairment.

The researchers found that patients who had higher levels of closeness with their caregivers, and those whose caregivers were spouses, had slower cognitive decline. The effect of closer relationships on patients' functional and cognitive declines was seen even after adjustment for potential confounders. In addition, the authors note, better relationship closeness had an increased effect when the caregiver was a spouse.

"It is conceivable that relationship closeness may reflect caregiver strategies that flexibly adapt to the needs of the person with Alzheimer's disease, encouraging, when appropriate, participation in cognitively and socially stimulating activities, which help promote sustained functioning," Norton and colleagues conclude. "Conversely, less close caregivers may experience more negative stress from the burden of care provision to a person with whom they feel more distant, especially if the caregiver has little understanding of what to expect as dementia progresses."

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