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Spouses who care for partners with dementia at sixfold higher risk of same fate
Date:5/5/2010

Husbands or wives who care for spouses with dementia are six times more likely to develop the memory-impairing condition than those whose spouses don't have it, according to results of a 12-year study led by Johns Hopkins, Utah State University, and Duke University. The increased risk that the researchers saw among caregivers was on par with the power of a gene variant known to increase susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease, they report in the May Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

A few small studies have suggested that spousal caregivers frequently show memory deficits greater than spouses who aren't caregivers. However, none examined the cognitive ability of caregivers over time using standard, strict criteria to diagnose dementia, a serious cognitive disorder characterized by deficits in memory, attention, judgment, language, and other abilities.

To get some answers, Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor Peter Rabins, M.D., M.P.H., and a team led by associate professor Maria Norton, Ph.D., of Utah State University, examined 1,221 married couples ages 65 or older. These individuals were part of the Cache County (Utah) Memory Study, which has identified over 900 persons with dementia in the community since 1995. All of the study participants live in Cache County, whose residents topped the longevity scale in the 1990 United States census.

Starting in 1995, the researchers began screening volunteers for dementia. The volunteers first completed questionnaires to evaluate their cognitive status. Those whose questionnaires suggested possible dementia underwent a comprehensive clinical assessment administered by specially trained nurses and technicians. Finally, a team led by a geriatric psychiatrist and a neuropsychologist evaluated the findings and assigned a diagnosis of dementia where appropriate.

In the sample of 2,442 married persons, the researchers diagnosed 255 individuals with dementia and discovered that
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Contact: Christen Brownlee
cbrownlee@jhmi.edu
410-955-7832
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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