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Counseling Boosts Alzheimer's Caregivers' Health

Spouse study finds it brings the patient real benefit, too

THURSDAY, Sept. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Spouses caring for partners with Alzheimer's disease report better physical health if they participate in individual or group counseling, new data shows.

"Preserving the health of spouse caregivers through counseling and support also benefits the person with Alzheimer's disease, as caregivers who are in poor health are more likely to have difficulty providing good care," Dr. Mary Mittelman, research professor in the department of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine noted in a prepared statement.

The results come from an ongoing 20-year study of 406 married couples in which one spouse is acting as a caregiver to a partner with Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and is characterized by gradual loss of memory and clarity of thought. Five million Americans live with the disease today, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

The couples were divided into two groups. Caregivers in one group received enhanced counseling and support, including six individual and family counseling sessions, support groups and telephone counseling. The second group received information and help upon request.

The researchers surveyed the caregivers about their physical health. Those who received the counseling reported better health than those who did not. The effect on caregivers' health typically began four months after beginning the intervention and lasted for more than a year.

Previous results from this study have shown that counseling for caregivers can delay the Alzheimer's-affected spouse's move to a nursing home for up to 18 months. Counseling also helps ease depression in caregivers.

The study is published in the September issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

More information

There's more on Alzheimer's disease at the Alzheimer's Association.

-- Madeline Vann

SOURCE: New York University Medical Center, press release, Sept. 5, 2007

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