Counseling Keeps Alzheimer’s Patient’s at Home

Family caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients who received intensive counseling reduced their stress levels and delayed the need for nursing home care for their loved ones, a study reports today.

Such support not only helps caregivers keep a relative at home, but it also could save the nation millions in nursing home costs every year, says researcher Mary Mittelman of the New York University School of Medicine.

The delay in nursing home admission translated to an average savings of about $90,000 per family, Mittelman says.

“That’s a pretty dramatic impact,” says Peter Reed of the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association. He says such interventions are urgently needed to help reduce the burden on families and the nation, which is expected to see huge increase in Alzheimer’s cases in the coming decades.

The New York team recruited 406 people who were taking care of a spouse with Alzheimer’s. Half were assigned to an intensive counseling group and received individual and family sessions with a therapist trained to deal with the memory loss and behavioral changes caused by the disease. The rest received counseling only when they asked for help with a problem.

Spouses who received the intensive counseling were able to put off admission to a nursing home by a year and a half, Mittelman says. Many people with advanced Alzheimer’s need round-the-clock care and often end up in a nursing home. But some people in the study never went to a nursing home, she says.

Family members aren’t just providing care at their own expense, Mittelman adds. Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can be an exhausting job that goes on 24/7 and leaves caregivers prone to burnout, she acknowledges.

But the study found that the extra support provided by counseling helped caregivers cope with many difficult aspects of the illness. For example, caregivers understood and were better able to tolerate the severe memory loss and agitation that comes along with advanced cases of the disease, Mittelman says.

Caregivers also were less likely to suffer from depression and said they were happier with the support they received from other family members, Mittelman says. The study was published in today’s issue of the journal Neurology.

“Most family members would like to keep their loved one at home as long as possible,” Mittelman says. The study suggests that most families can achieve that goal, she says, when they get the support they need.

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