December 6, 2005
Alzheimer's caregivers are twice as likely to develop gum disease as their peers who do not care for a loved one with the illness, even though both groups may brush and floss equally, researchers report. The scientists suspect that the persistent stress of caregiving may play a big role in contributing to dental problems. The findings underline how important it is for caregivers to tend not just to loved ones, but to take care of their own health as well.
The researchers, from the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, examined 123 men and women who were caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's disease. They compared them with 117 men and women of similar age and general health who were not Alzheimer's caregivers. Both groups had similar oral hygiene practices.
The investigators found that those men and women who were caring for a spouse with dementia were twice as likely to have gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease marked by swollen and bleeding gums. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to tooth loss and serious dental problems. Doctors have linked poor dental health and inflamed gums to heart disease as well. The spouse caregivers also tended to have high levels of blood insulin and more fat around their middles, risk factors for diabetes.
The researchers suspect that the long-term stress of caregiving may contribute to poor dental health. They note that the link between gum disease and stress was first recognized during World War I, when soldiers fighting in the trenches often developed serious dental problems. Various studies have since noted an association between chronic stress and poor health, both emotional and physical.
If you are caring for a loved with Alzheimer'sa job that can require 100 hours a week or more it is important that you take measures to help minimize the emotional and physical toll. Researchers at New York University School of Medicine have shown that a targeted program of counseling and support services can do much to allay these feelings of depression and stress, offering benefits that may last for years.
www.Alzinfo.org, offers many additional tips for managing the patient with Alzheimer's and more information on family support and education, communicating or traveling with the Alzheimer's patient, therapeutic activities, and home modifications.
Peter Vitaliano, Ph.D., et al. Caregiving and Gingival Symptom Reports: "Psychological Mediators." Psychosomatic Medicine Volume 67(6), November 2005.