For the most part, I’ve always been a “glass half full” person. Even during very trying times, I try to find the good in what’s happening, or at least contemplate what I can learn from the negative aspects of life. After reading about a study done by Utah State University, I realize that as a caregiver for multiple people, looking on the brighter side of life may have helped my care receivers, as well.
The study, published in the January 2013 issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, found that employing higher levels of positive coping strategies, such as problem-focused coping, high social support and counting blessings, slowed decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease as measured by the Mini-Mental State Exams. This exam is a global measure of cognitive ability that assesses orientation, attention, memory, language and visuospatial ability.
The report says that, historically, patients whose caregivers rely more on dysfunctional or negative coping strategies such as avoidance, blaming self or others or wishful thinking showed faster decline on cognitive and functional measures.
Most of us are aware of the benefits of social support, and counting our blessings is something we’re taught from childhood even if we often forget to follow through. Less obvious to most of us is problem-focused coping. The researchers used the phrase to mean caregivers target the cause of a problem in a practical way, such as evaluating the pros and cons of various options after gathering information about stressful issues. This would seem to be the opposite of avoidance, which is considered a negative strategy.
The researchers think that a positive, problem-focused coping strategy could translate into developing a care environment that is better tailored to individual patient needs, as well as that of the caregiver. They maintain that such strategies may help caregivers cope with the stress of dementia caregiving while curbing the progression of dementia in their patients.
Dr. JoAnn Tschanz, Professor at USU and the study’s lead author said that, “Except for psychiatric symptoms, few [other] studies have examined how caregiver characteristics affect the rate of dementia progression, and our findings indicate significant associations between caregiver coping strategies and the rate of cognitive and functional decline in dementia.”
The study, conducted in Cache County, Utah, by a team of USU researchers along with fellow researchers from Johns Hopkins University, assessed 226 people diagnosed with dementia, as well as their caregivers, semi-annually for up to six years. Researchers found that greater use of problem-focused coping and other positive interaction may be mutually beneficial for both patients and caregivers.
Since this study focuses specifically on people with dementia and their caregivers, the results could help justify increased hands-on, interactive care in nursing homes and other facilities. Perhaps facility administrators can benefit from this information to improve the environment for their residents as well as their staff members.