Looking after dementia patient ‘can impact carer negatively’

The stress of looking after a loved one with dementia can negatively impact on both the memory and concentration of the carer, new research shows.

However, it has emerged stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness and meditation can lead to an improvement in both the memory and attention span of dementia care-givers.

The research, part of an ongoing three-year study into the impact of dementia care-giving on the health and well-being of what is expected to be up to some 300 carers, is to be presented at a public forum today in UCC.

So far, according to Dr Andrew Allen of the Department of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Science & APC Microbiome Institute at UCC, tests have been carried out on the memory and concentration spans of some 70 carers who have been looking after family members with dementia.

The study is funded by the HSE and the Health Research Board. “We are comparing the care-givers to a non-care-giving control group,” Dr Allen explained, adding that researchers were also investigating the impact of certain interventions which, it was felt, could potentially support such care-givers in their role.

“We have noticed that in people caring for a relative with dementia, their memory and concentration span was affected to an extent by the stress of the role,” said Dr Allen.

“The theory is that long-term stress can have a negative impact on certain parts of the brain responsible for memory, such as the Hippocampus,” he said adding however that the impact was moderate rather than severe.

Researchers found that a group of carers for dementia patients performed less well in challenging visual and spatial memory tests than a group of non-carers.

However, researchers also discovered that after classes on mindfulness, stress reduction and meditation, as well as receiving training and education on memory problems experienced by dementia patients, carers’ performance improved.

“What was quite interesting was when we assessed carers after a number of interventions, they performed better on memory and concentration tests,” said Dr Allen.

The research CARING Perspectives: Public Forum on Living with Dementia and the Caregiver Experience, will be presented today at UCC.

The symposium will provide a number of different perspectives from key stakeholders on the caregiver experience, including caregivers, researchers, clinicians and public figures. In coming together they will share their experiences and increase awareness of caregiving for dementia.

An increasing number of people in Ireland are providing care for a relative with dementia at a time when evidence suggests dementia care-giving is associated with heightened psychological stress, as well as problems such as depression.

Other speakers include Professor Eamon O’Shea (NUI Galway), Vanessa Bradbury (The Alzheimer Society Of Ireland), Betty Cogan on caregiving from a carer’s perspective and Helen Rochford-Brennan, chair of the Irish Alzheimer Society’s National Dementia Working Group.

The symposium is hosted by UCC’s Department of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Science and Centre for Gerontology and Rehabilitation, together with the APC Microbiome Institute.

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