Caregiver Factors Linked to Patient's Dementia Symptoms

Patients cared for by younger, depressed caregivers at more risk, study found

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FRIDAY, June 2, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Caregiver factors may influence the frequency of behavioral problems, such as wandering, hallucinations and restlessness, in patients with dementia, a new report finds.

Researchers found a rise in these symptoms in patients whose caregivers were young, less educated, overburdened or depressed, according to a U.S. study in the May issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The study included nearly 6,000 dementia patients living in the community and their caregivers. Nearly half the caregivers were the patients' spouses, and 31 percent were daughters or daughters-in-law. Constant restlessness, constant talkativeness, hallucinations, paranoia, episodes of unreasonable anger, combativeness, danger to self, danger to others, destruction of property, repetitive questions, wandering, and waking the caregiver were the behavioral symptoms assessed in the study.

Caregivers who were younger, less educated, more depressed, more burdened, or who spent more hours per week giving care reported more behavioral symptoms in patients. The youngest caregivers reported 50 percent more of these behaviors than the oldest caregivers.

"These symptoms are part of the disease, and the caregivers aren't causing them, but certain styles of caregiving may bring them out. Our study identified characteristics of caregivers that are linked to these difficult behaviors," study author Dr. Kaycee Sink, an assistant professor of gerontology at Wake Forest University of School of Medicine, in Winston-Salem, N.C., said in a prepared statement.

A better understanding of the association between caregiver characteristics and dementia patient behaviors could lead to more effective treatment.

"These results are consistent with the idea that caregiver characteristics, including their emotional state, could contribute to neuropsychiatric (behavioral) symptoms in dementia patients. For example, it is possible that caregivers who are burdened may be irritable and demonstrate less patience, which could provoke the symptoms," Sink said.

Behavioral symptoms are the leading reason why families place dementia patients in nursing homes. The symptoms make it too difficult to care for the patient at home.

"We're not trying to blame the caregivers but to better understand the complex puzzle," Sink said. "If we focus only on the patient, we're not going to solve the problem. We need to develop better, non-drug treatments to handle these behaviors, and more tailored caregiver education may be one answer."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Aging offers a guide for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's.

SOURCE: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, news release, May 23, 2006

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