Caring for Caregivers

Dementia caregivers may benefit from taking part in stress reducing therapies

(RxWiki News) Caring for a loved one with dementia can be hard. Caregiver support and training may be a good way for caregivers to take care of themselves.

A recent study trained some caregivers in mindfulness practices and gave others education. They found people trained in mindfulness saw quick results – their stress level was lowered and their mental health improved.

People in the education group also saw benefits. Either type of program may be helpful.

"Ask a doctor about caregiver support services."

Researchers, led by Robin R. Whitebird, PhD, MSW, of the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research in Minneapolis, Minnesota, enrolled caregivers in two types of treatment.

A total of 78 caregivers of loved ones with dementia were assigned to either mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or community caregiver education and support.

Both groups had one session each for eight weeks.

MBSR program included yoga, tips for practicing mindfulness and meditation and tools for helping caregivers to integrate those practices into daily life.

The other group received education in each of their meetings. They covered topics related to dementia, financial issues, communication, community resources, grief and loss.

The researchers surveyed the caregivers at the end of the eight weeks and again six months later.

They were interested in ratings of their overall mental health, the level of anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as stress levels.

They also asked questions about the caregivers’ use of social support and their ideas about the burden of their situation.

Both types of programs improved caregiver mental health. Both also improved anxiety level, perceived burden and the level of social support.

The MBSR was better than the education program at improving overall mental health scores, decreasing stress and decreasing depression.

Both fared well over time.  At the six month follow-up, people in both groups showed improvement in mental health.

However, the MBSR group saw mental health scores go up just after the sessions, and they remained up.

The education group ended up with similar scores for mental health, but they achieved it through slow increases over the six months.

The authors concluded caregivers benefit from programs that help them to learn skills for coping with the stress of caring for a loved one.

The MBSR program had some added benefits over and above the education program, especially because of its ability to rapidly reduce stress.

This study was published October 15 in The Gerontologist.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.  No financial disclosure information was provided.

Review Date: 
October 25, 2012