Grant Funds Study of Injuries to Caregivers of SCI/D Patients

Mark Nash, Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery, and physical medicine and rehabilitation at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, has been awarded a four-year $2.5 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research to study interventions for functional decline and secondary medical complications sustained by caregivers of people with spinal cord injuries and diseases (SCI/D).

“While clinicians and researchers often focus on the person with SCI/D, the caregiver can be left entirely out of the care plan, even as the health and functional reserve of the care recipient undergoes inevitable aging-related decline, and the reserve of the caregiver to satisfy essential daily needs of the care recipient is exceeded,” said Nash. “It’s thus not surprising that pain, anxiety and depression among caregivers of people with SCI/D are disturbingly prevalent, and worsening.”

The work is a collaborative Disability Rehabilitation Research Project conducted by faculty at The Miami Project (Eva Widerstrom-Noga, D.D.S., Ph.D., research professor of neurological surgery, and physical medicine and rehabilitation, Rachel Cowan, Ph.D., research assistant professor of neurological surgery, and Kim Anderson-Erisman, Ph.D., research associate professor of neurological surgery), Department of Medicine (Armando Mendez, Ph.D., research associate professor), Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Kevin L. Dalal, M.D., research associate professor) and the UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center (Anthony Musto, Ph.D.), as well as by two researchers at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., which is part of the NIDILRR Rocky Mountain Model Regional Spinal Cord System.

The project will leverage findings from multiple grants awarded to Nash by the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research and the U.S. Department of Defense, which established guidelines in people with SCI/D for comprehensive lifestyle intervention on cardiometabolic disease and its component risks. The current work will examine the predictable shift of many health and function-related responsibilities increasingly borne by adjuvant providers, now classified as “health care provider extenders” or “caregivers.” These individuals are challenged to support greater health and functional demands of aging with SCI/D while they are similarly experiencing health and functional decline accompanying their own aging.

This shifting of care providers will likely continue due to an uncertain future of disability coverage within an evolving American health system.

“We have already started to observe, yet do not fully comprehend the many complex challenges imposed by aging on people with SCI/D and their caregivers,” said Nash. “Targeted interventions are needed for caregivers of people with SCI/D who are required to be more physically active, are required to lift/push/roll an impaired body far more often, and often assume caregiving responsibilities early in the life of the care recipient.”

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