January 23, 2006
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease? You may be eligible to participate in one of three new studies currently recruiting patients at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine. All are aimed at showing whether short-term counseling can ease the psychological stress and depression of those with Alzheimer's and their family members.
"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 Pyschosocial 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."
These studies were inspired by the success of a previous trial at the NYU School of Medicine that showed that even a short period of counseling can have a long-term beneficial impact on the emotional well-being of people taking care of spouses with Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Mittelman and her colleagues found that this unique counseling and support program substantially eases the depression of spouse caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. The benefits persisted even three years after counseling ended. Even when spouse caregivers have supportive networks, there can still be communication difficulties within families that require counseling to resolve.
Caring for a Parent
Mittelman's landmark study looked only at caregivers who were caring for their spouses. A new study, a replication of the original, is designed for people caring for a parent with Alzheimer's disease. The trial will be conducted simultaneously in New York City and Minnesota.
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. This middle stage is 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 developed especially for this study, 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.
Early-Stage Couples Counseling
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.
"People have traditionally been treated separately, with the spouse in one room and the person with Alzheimer's in another," says Dr. Mittelman. "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.
By www.ALZinfo.org, the Alzheimer's Information Site.
NYU School of Medicine Press Release.