Caring for the caregiver: Redefining the definition of patient

Nov 10, 2008

One quarter of all family caregivers of Alzheimer's disease patients succumb to the stress of providing care to a loved one and become hospital patients themselves, according to an Indiana University study published in the November 2008 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine, the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University Center for Aging Research report in a new study that a quarter of family caregivers of Alzheimer's dementia patients had at least one emergency room visit or hospitalization every six months.

While it has long been anecdotally recognized that caring for a family member with Alzheimer's disease is stressful, this work is the first to measure just how stressful providing care is and to examine the impact of this stress on both the physical and mental health of the family caregiver.

The study found that the behavior and functioning of the individual with Alzheimer's dementia, rather than cognitive ability, were the major factors determining whether the caregiver went to the emergency room or was hospitalized.

"Our findings opened our minds to the fact that society needs to expand the definition of patient to include both the person with Alzheimer's dementia and that individual's family caregiver," said Malaz Boustani, M.D., corresponding author. Dr. Boustani is assistant professor of medicine and a Regenstrief Institute research scientist.

The researchers looked at 153 individuals with Alzheimer's disease and their family caregivers, a total of 366 people. Forty-four percent of the caregivers were spouses. Seventy percent of the caregivers resided with their charges.

The average caregiver was 61 years of age. The researchers found that age, education and relationship to the individual with Alzheimer's disease did not impact caregiver use of acute medical services – either emergency room or inpatient facilities.

"While we've long known that Alzheimer's is a devastating disease to the patient, this study offers a look at how it also impacts the caregiver's health. If we don't offer help and support to the caregiver, too, the stress of caring for someone with dementia can be overwhelming, both mentally and physically," said Cathy C. Schubert, M.D., IU School of Medicine assistant professor of clinical medicine.

Approximately four million older adults in the United States have Alzheimer's disease and three million of them live in the community, often cared for by family members. This number is growing rapidly and by 2050 it is estimated that there will be 18.5 million cases of Alzheimer's dementia in the United States.

"For American society to respond to the growing epidemic of Alzheimer's disease, the health-care system needs to rethink the definition of patient. These findings alert health-care delivery planners that they need to restructure the health-care system to accommodate our new inclusive definition of patient," said Dr. Boustani.

Dr. Boustani directs the Healthy Aging Brain Center. Using the findings of this study, the center is leading the nation in expanding the definition of patient to include the individual with Alzheimer's disease and family caregivers and to provide care to both. The Healthy Aging Brain Center is part of the IU Center for Senior Health at Wishard Health Services.

Source: Indiana University

Explore further: What are the chances that your dad isn't your dad?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Arctic air brings record cold to huge swath of US

Jan 07, 2014

A blast of bone-chilling cold reaching lows not seen in two decades gripped the United States early Tuesday, snarling air travel, closing schools and prompting calls for people to stay inside.

Recommended for you

Obese British man in court fight for surgery

Jul 11, 2011

A British man weighing 22 stone (139 kilograms, 306 pounds) launched a court appeal Monday against a decision to refuse him state-funded obesity surgery because he is not fat enough.

2008 crisis spurred rise in suicides in Europe

Jul 08, 2011

The financial crisis that began to hit Europe in mid-2008 reversed a steady, years-long fall in suicides among people of working age, according to a letter published on Friday by The Lancet.

New food labels dished up to keep Europe healthy

Jul 06, 2011

A groundbreaking deal on compulsory new food labels Wednesday is set to give Europeans clear information on the nutritional and energy content of products, as well as country of origin.

Overweight men have poorer sperm count

Jul 04, 2011

Overweight or obese men, like their female counterparts, have a lower chance of becoming a parent, according to a comparison of sperm quality presented at a European fertility meeting Monday.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Melting during cooling period

(Phys.org) —A University of Maine research team says stratification of the North Atlantic Ocean contributed to summer warming and glacial melting in Scotland during the period recognized for abrupt cooling ...