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Study Reveals “Positive” Caregiver Coping Strategies Affect Rate of Dementia Progression
Posted by Bob DeMarco, Alzheimer’s Reading Room

Utah State University (USU) announced the results of a study
presenting strong evidence that caregivers can promote higher
functioning among persons with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of
dementia by modifying the patient’s environment.

The Cache County Dementia Progression Study
is the first published academic research to show evidence that
environmental factors–such as aspects of the care environment–could slow
the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The study offers hope for those
trying to mitigate the effects of Alzheimer’s, the most common form of
dementia, which affects one in eight older Americans. It is the only
disease among the top 10 causes of death nationally that, to date,
cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
The study found that employing higher levels of “positive” coping
strategies (e.g., problem-focused coping, seeking high levels of social
support, counting blessings, etc.) slows patient decline as measured by
the Mini-Mental State Exams. This exam is a global measure of cognitive
ability that assesses orientation, attention, memory, language and
visuospatial ability.

“This study is a groundbreaking event in the fight
against dementia, including Alzheimer’s, which has been so pervasively
devastating for individuals and families, especially given the limited
treatment options for patients and their families,” said Dr. JoAnn
Tschanz, Professor at USU and the study’s lead author. “Except for
psychiatric symptoms, few studies have examined how caregiver characteristics affect the rate of dementia progression,
and our findings indicate significant associations between caregiver
coping strategies and the rate of cognitive and functional decline in

Conducted in Cache County, Utah, by a team of USU researchers along
with fellow researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the study
assessed 226 persons with dementia and their caregivers semi-annually
for up to six years.

“Greater use of problem-focused coping may be mutually
beneficial for both patients and caregivers,” said Dr. Tschanz. “Use of
this coping strategy may translate into developing a care environment
that is tailored to individual patient needs. Furthermore, other
research suggests problem-focused coping has been associated with less
emotional distress among caregivers. Such strategies may help caregivers
cope with the stress of dementia caregiving while curbing the
progression of dementia in their patients.”

The study, entitled “Caregiver Coping Strategies Predict Cognitive and Functional Decline in Dementia: The Cache County Dementia Progression Study,” was published in the January 2013 issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The study’s research team from the Emma Eccles Jones College of
Education and Human Services included Drs. Joann and Brian Tschanz and
Dr. Scott DeBerard of Psychology and Dr. Kathleen Piercy, Dr. Maria
Norton and Dr. Elizabeth Fauth of the Family, Consumer and Human
Development department.
The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging

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