Alzheimer's disease is a tragedy not only to its victims, but also to their caregivers, says Mary Mittelman, Dr.P.H., Director of the Psychosocial Research and Support Program at the NYU School of Medicine's Silberstein Institute. Primary caregivers often experience stress, depression, and other emotional problems as a result of the continuing and demanding levels of care required by people with Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia affecting people over 65.
Dr. Mittelman and her colleagues found that a unique counseling and support program substantially eases the depression of spouse caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, and the effects were evident even three years after counseling. Even when spouse caregivers have supportive networks, there can still be communication difficulties within families that require counseling to resolve.
Dr. Mittelman's landmark study was only for spouse caregivers. A new study, a replication of the original, is designed for people caring for a parent with Alzheimer's disease, and will be conducted simultaneously in New York City and rural Kentucky.
A second new study will focus on helping people who are caring for a parent in the middle stage of the disease, when behavioral problems are most common, often the most difficult time for caregivers. "A parent at this stage is in many ways different from the person you used to know. This is tough on their adult children," says Dr. Mittelman.
All participants in this study will receive written self-teaching materials and the opportunity to contact an NYU counselor for further information. Half the participants will also participate in two workshops and an individual counseling session, tailored to the needs of each caregiver. Caregivers will learn about the typical needs, skills and limitations of people at this stage of the disease and how to relate to their parents in a way that enhances their experience, and makes the most of their parent's remaining strengths.
A third trial will provide couples counseling for people with early-stage Alzheimer's and their spouses. The disease can have devastating impact on the relationship between spouses, and couples counseling may improve their ability to cope together with the diagnosis and the progression of the disease. Dr. Mittelman says, "People have traditionally been treated separately, with the spouse in one room and the person with Alzheimer's in another, but they have to go home and live together afterwards, so we're trying to help them do that."
These studies are part of the NYU Silberstein Institute's Psychosocial Research Program, a longstanding research endeavor devoted to testing interventions to improve the well being of families dealing with Alzheimer's as they struggle with the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.