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Exercise plus behavior management training for caregivers benefits Alzheimer's patients, UW/Group Health study finds

 

For immediate release
Date:    2003
Contact:   nscomm@uw.edu

[SEATTLE]-People with Alzheimer's disease can benefit from a home-based program that trains their caregivers to help patients exercise and to manage patients' behavior problems, according to an article in the October 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) School of Nursing and Group Health Cooperative's Center for Health Studies conducted the study of 153 patient/caregiver pairs, comparing patients who were enrolled in the program with those in usual care. The study found that patients in the program showed significantly higher levels of physical activity, lower rates of depression, and better physical health and function.

While previous research has shown that exercise benefits Alzheimer's patients, this is the first study to show the effectiveness of a home-based program that helps caregivers to deal with behavioral disturbances that can be an obstacle to physical activity.

"Alzheimer's disease affects both patients and caregivers," explained principal investigator Linda Teri, PhD, director of the Northwest Research Group on Aging and professor in UW's School of Nursing. "It is a debilitating disease that touches every aspect of daily life. By helping caregivers learn how to treat the problems that arise and how to encourage physical activities, we have the potential to significantly improve function and care."

The training in the study consisted of 12 one-hour sessions taught by home-health professionals from Group Health Cooperative who were trained in dementia care. The home-health workers showed the patients how to do aerobic activities, strength training, balance, and flexibility exercises. The staff also taught caregivers how to encourage and help patients with their exercise, and helped the caregivers to develop and implement behavioral plans. The program's goal was to have the patients moderately exercise for 30 minutes each day.

In addition, the staff taught caregivers about Alzheimer's-related dementia, how it affects patients' behavior, and how to avoid situations that may distress their patients. Caregivers also learned ways to respond to problems, to identify pleasant activities for their patients, and to encourage positive interactions with the patients.

In follow-up evaluations three months and 24 months later, the researchers found that the patients enrolled in the programs had significantly better mood, were more physically active, and did better on physical performance measures. This means they were less at risk for physical disability, which would further impair the quality of their lives. Patients receiving the study intervention were also significantly less likely to be institutionalized for behavior problems, suggesting that caregivers were better able to care for them at home.

"Because Alzheimer's is a degenerative, progressive brain disease, people often have a sense of hopelessness about it," said Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, director of Group Health Cooperative's Center for Health Studies, and a co-investigator on the study. "But this study shows there are relatively simple, low-cost ways to help patients preserve their physical health and have fewer behavioral problems as a result of their disease."

About the Center for Health Studies

Group Health Cooperative's Center for Health Studies conducts epidemiologic, health-services, and clinical research related to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of major health problems. Funded primarily through government and private research grants, the Center is located in Seattle, Washington.

Group Health is a consumer-governed, nonprofit health care system that coordinates care and coverage. Based in Seattle, the Cooperative serves nearly 600,000 members in Washington and Idaho.

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The University of Washington School of Nursing is consistently the nation’s No. 1-ranked nursing school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ranked No. 3 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the UW School of Nursing is a national and international leader in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The school addresses society’s most pressing challenges in health care through innovative teaching, award winning research and community service.