Family caregivers of older adults with dementia are less stressed and their moods are better on days when dementia patients receive adult day services (ADS), according to a new study.
“Caregivers who live with and care for someone with dementia can experience extraordinary amounts of stress,” said Steven Zarit, Ph.D., professor and head of human development and family studies at Penn State.
“The use of adult day services appears to provide caregivers with a much-needed break that can possibly protect them from the negative health effects caused by chronic stress.”
For the study, researchers conducted telephone interviews on eight consecutive days with 173 family caregivers of individuals with dementia who use adult day services.
These provide social and health services to adults who need supervised care outside the home during the day.
On some of the interview days, the individuals with dementia attended an ADS program. On other days, they were with the caregiver most or all of the time.
In the daily interviews, the researchers asked the caregivers about the stresses and positive events they had been exposed to during the day, as well as their mood and health symptoms.
The series of daily reports allowed the researchers to compare each person on both ADS and non-ADS days, according to Zarit.
“We can then assess if each person shows improvement in stressor exposure, mood and health symptoms on ADS days compared to non-ADS days,” he said. “This comparison provides a more fundamental indicator of improvement than how that individual might compare to a group average.”
Next, the research team used multi-level statistical models to analyze the results of the telephone interviews, he said.
The researchers found that caregivers had lower exposure to care-related stressors and more positive experiences on days when their family members used ADS.
And while caregivers were exposed to more non-care stressors on these days, the overall effect of the use of ADS on caregivers was lowered anger, as well as a reduced impact of non-care stressors on depressive symptoms.
“ADS days were associated with a small increase in non-care stressors, yet caregivers reacted to high levels of non-care stressors with less depressive mood on ADS days than non-ADS days,” Zarit said.
“We conclude that the use of ADS has a buffering effect on the relation of non-care stressors on depressive mood.
“Overall, our findings demonstrate that stressors on caregivers are partly lowered and mood is improved on days when their relatives attend adult day service programs, which may provide protection against the negative effects of chronic stress associated with caregiving,” he concluded.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging, was published in The Gerontologist.
Source: Penn State