Counseling for spouses keeps Alzheimer's patients out of nursing homes

ST. PAUL, Minn – Spouses of Alzheimer's disease patients are less likely to put their loved ones in a nursing home if they receive enhanced caregiver support and counseling. Researchers say their findings could potentially save millions of dollars in nursing home care costs, according to a study published in the November 14, 2006, issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Researchers studied 406 spouse caregivers in New York, NY, over a 19-year period. Half of the spouses received usual care, while the other half received enhanced counseling and support, including six sessions of individual and family counseling, support group participation, and availability of ad hoc telephone counseling.

The study found caregiver spouses who received the enhanced counseling and support intervention delayed placing their ailing spouse in a nursing home by one and a half years compared to caregiver spouses who received usual care.

"Interventions that help reduce nursing home placement without overburdening family members will be essential for our society, which is faced with a projected tripling of cases of Alzheimer's disease in the decades ahead," said Mary Mittelman, DrPH, with New York University School of Medicine. "Given the average cost of $60,000 per year for nursing home care in the United States in 2004, a delay in placement of one and half years represents about a $90,000 savings per patient."

The study also found increased satisfaction with social support and a greater tolerance for patient behavior accounted for 61 percent of the enhanced intervention's beneficial impact on delaying the placement of patients into nursing homes.

"Delaying placement was not accomplished at the expense of the caregiver's well-being. Caregivers in the treatment group were not only able to keep their spouses at home with them longer, but as a result of the intervention had greater tolerance for patient memory and behavior problems, improved satisfaction with the support provided by family and friends, and fewer symptoms of depression," said Mittelman.

Mittelman says greater access to effective programs of counseling and support could yield considerable benefits for caregivers, people with Alzheimer's disease and society.

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The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging, the New York University Alzheimer's Disease Center, and the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 19,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson disease, and multiple sclerosis. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit www.aan.com.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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