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The Caregiver Effect

July 24, 2009

A study led by Johns Hopkins and Utah State University researchers suggests that a particularly close relationship with caregivers may give people with Alzheimer’s disease a marked edge over those without one in retaining mind and brain function over time. The beneficial effect of emotional intimacy that the researchers saw among participants was on par with some drugs used to treat the disease. The study is believed to be the first to show that the patient-caregiver relationship may directly influence progression of Alzheimer’s disease. "We’ve shown that the benefits of having a close caregiver, especially a spouse, may mean the difference between someone with AD staying at home or going to a nursing facility," says Constantine Lyketsos, MD, MHS, the Elizabeth Plank Althouse Professor in Alzheimer’s Disease Research and director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center. Lyketsos explains that how or why this happens is as yet unclear—the results may be due to milder forms of Alzheimer’s disease among those who reported close relationships. "A close relationship might prompt caregivers to deliver more attentive treatment, but it might be the other way around, with a milder illness helping caregivers stay close," Lyketsos says. "Our next study is designed to detangle what’s going on."