I recently reported on a long-running study that found that husbands or wives who care for spouses with dementia are six times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s themselves than those whose spouses don't have it. The most likely cause for this is the great stress of caregiving. Both stress and depression increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, and both are common (well, stress is inescapable!) among caregivers.
There have been several studies showing how counseling and support reduce stress and depression in caregivers (see my new Topic collection; I’ve also just put up another collection on behavioral and cognitive strategies that can help Alzheimer’s sufferers). For example, one study found that a six-session counseling and long-term support program had a substantial and long-lasting effect on caregiver depression. That’s an interesting one, because the control group received ‘the usual counseling’ — that is, sessions provided on an ad-hoc basis upon request. The other participants were given three additional types of counseling: two sessions of individual counseling, four sessions of counseling with their family, and then weekly meetings with a support group of fellow caregivers.
Key factors in the success of this intervention were thought to be: having the same counselor for all sessions, the use of multiple types of coordinated therapy, and counseling tailored to the individuals.
Caregivers who participated in a program that emphasized a team approach to care also had less stress and depression.
These interventions also had positive benefits for the Alzheimer’s sufferers. Because that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s the same as in any close relationship; you affect each other. So caregivers shouldn’t feel guilty for taking ‘me’ time, or feel bad that they can’t manage on their own. Alzheimer’s is the cruelest of diseases, and it’s too much for any of us to cope with alone.
What these studies emphasize is the need for greater caregiver support. So I was very pleased to be notified about a new resource for caregivers (any caregivers, not only those caring for an Alzheimer’s sufferer).
Caregiver Village is an online community designed for those who provide care for anyone with special needs. Caregiver Village members connect with friends, participate in book clubs with celebrity authors, journal, play mystery games, solve puzzles, and learn valuable information about caregiving. The founders of Caregiver Village have also just put aside a portion of the launch funding to support caregiving organizations. For every person that joins Caregiver Village, they will donate $1 to that person’s organization of choice. You can read about it at http://www.caregivervillage.com/social-media
It’s just gone up, so not all the details are up yet. But I’ve been told that the free trial they’re offering is for a year. After that, if you want to continue your membership, it would be less than $5 per month — but you can earn points from activities throughout the Village that you can use to "purchase" membership, so if you’re an active member, it may well pay for itself!
It sounds a great idea, and it looks nicely done. Getting out of the house is a problem for most caregivers, so an online support group has many advantages over a face-to-face one. And the idea of having games and puzzles is a good one, too. Apart from the emotional problems of caregiving, I do also wonder if reduced mental stimulation is a factor in caregivers’ increased dementia risk.