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WebSideStory Pick of the Week! 3/16/98

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Senior Housing Net
    December 17, 2001
    COLUMBUS, Ohio - The negative psychological impact of 
    caregiving for a spouse with Alzheimer's or other forms 
    of dementia continues for years after the spouse dies, 
    new research suggests.
    The study by researchers at the Houston VA Medical Center
    and Ohio State University found that, even three years 
    after their spouse had died, former caregivers still 
    showed levels of depression and loneliness similar to 
    those in current caregivers.
    "Even two to three years after caregiving ended, former
    caregivers reported fewer positive mood states than non-
    For example, 41 percent of former caregivers showed mild
    to severe depression at two to three years after their 
    spouses' death - not significantly less than the 43 per-
    cent depression rate among current caregivers.
    "One assumption has been that the psychological health of
    caregivers would improve once the burden of caregiving 
    ends," said Susan Robinson-Whelen, the lead author of the
    study. "However, we found that the negative effects of 
    long-term caregiving for a spouse with dementia may con-
    tinue well beyond the caregiving years."
    Robinson-Whelen began studying the health of caregivers 
    as a post-doctoral fellow in psychiatry at Ohio State. 
    She is now a researcher at the Center of Excellence on 
    Healthy Aging with Disabilities at the Houston VA Medical
    Center. She co-authored the study with Yuri Tada, Robert 
    MacCallum, Lynanne McGuire and Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, all
    of Ohio State. The study appears in the current issue of 
    the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
    The researchers studied 49 former caregivers, 42 continu-
    ing caregivers and 52 noncaregiving control participants.
    The former and current caregivers all cared for a spouse
    suffering from some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer's 
    disease. All the participants were assessed on a variety 
    of psychological measures for four years. The former 
    caregivers were tested once before the death of their 
    spouse and three times following the death.
    The most striking finding was that levels of depression 
    did not significantly improve even two to three years 
    after caregiving duties ended, said Kiecolt-Glaser, who  
    is a professor of psychiatry at Ohio State. While many of
    the former caregivers showed evidence of relatively mild
    depression, it was still enough to impair their well-
    being, she said. Researchers were also concerned that the
    depression had not significantly decreased over time.
    Kiecolt-Glaser noted that the control group in her study 
    those who had never been caregivers -- had a depression 
    rate of only 15 percent, compared to the rate of over 40
    percent for former and current caregivers. "We didn't see
    the improvements you would hope and expect to see after 
    caregiving has ended," she said.
    Results also showed that former caregivers experienced  
    fewer negative moods-- such as guilt and anger - than did
    current caregivers, and did not differ significantly 
    from noncaregivers in such negative mood states. However,
    former caregivers did not see a similar return to normal 
    in how often they felt positive emotions, such as energy
    and enthusiasm. Even two to three years after caregiving
    ended, former caregivers reported fewer positive mood 
    states than noncaregivers.
    Moreover, former caregivers also showed higher levels of 
    loneliness than did non-caregivers. "Most studies suggest
    many widowed people see improvements in their psychologi-
    cal health after a year or so of the death of their 
    spouse," Robinson-Whelen said. "However, the former care-
    givers in this study still had relatively high levels of
    depression and loneliness even several years after the 
    death of their spouse."
    The former caregivers who were most likely to report 
    psychological problems were those who said they often had
    recurring, unwanted thoughts about their caregiving 
    experiences, or who said they tried to actively avoid
    such thoughts. Former caregivers who reported less social
    support from family and friends also were more likely to
    show signs of depression or other problems.
    One area where former caregivers did show significant 
    improvement was stress: after three years, former care-
    givers showed levels of stress very similar to those of 
    non-caregivers. "You would expect that once the daily 
    constant demands of caregiving were over that stress 
    would go down," she said.
    Robinson-Whelen said it is not known whether these 
    results would apply to caregivers who cared for spouses 
    with problems other than dementia. However, caring for a
    spouse with dementia may create special problems that 
    make adjustment following death more difficult, she said.
    However, the results do show that former caregivers may 
    still need psychological help and support, even though 
    their caregiving duties are over.
    "Caregiving, especially for a spouse with dementia, is 
    very difficult and the effects can linger for years," she
    said. "Former caregivers need more attention given to 
    their needs."
    The study was supported by grants from the National 
    Institutes of Health and the Veterans Affairs Rehabilita-
    tion Research and Development Service.
    Contact: Susan Robinson-Whelen, (713) 791-1414, ext. 6159
    Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, (614) 292-0033
    Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457;
    Original Site: Please feel free to contact us at:
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