NIH-Backed Care Partners Program Supports the Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s Disease
Finding innovative ways to ease the challenges for caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease — and potentially improve quality of life for both parties — is the aim of a research study being conducted at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medical College.
The National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health is fueling the initiative by funding a 12-month study called the Care Partners Program. The Miller School is the only research site in Florida, and Weill Cornell is the only research site in New York. David Loewenstein, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Aging and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Miller School, and Sara J. Czaja, Ph.D., director of the Center on Aging and Behavioral Research at Weill Cornell serve as co-principal investigators.
Historically, physicians have focused concern on people showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Less appreciated, however, is the large burden placed on their caregivers. The goals of the study include reducing caregiver burden, lowering any symptoms of depression among caregivers, and helping people delay the placement of a loved one in an institutional setting.
“The Care Partners Program explores ways to help caregivers meet the everyday challenges of having someone at home with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease or other memory-related conditions,” said Dr. Loewenstein. “Caregivers will learn strategies to reduce stress, enhance caregiving skills, and improve overall well-being. Loved ones with early Alzheimer’s disease will receive cognitive training and mental-stimulation exercises.”
“We are excited about the collaboration between our two institutions, as it gives us a chance to evaluate the intervention in two geographic locations with diverse populations,” said Dr. Czaja.
Drs. Loewenstein and Czaja plan to enroll a varied population of 240 patients — 80 Caucasian, 80 Hispanic, and 80 African-American — with early signs of memory loss and their caregivers. Hispanics are almost one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia compared with Caucasians; African-Americans are almost twice as likely.
Already enrolled in the program are sisters Wilene and Gloria. Willene, age 66, moved Gloria, 72, into her home when Gloria’s Alzheimer’s-related memory loss and cognitive impairment grew too severe for Gloria to live on her own. Both women and Willene’s husband are retired, and Willene did not want to place her sister in a facility — that’s what drove Willene to participate in the Care Partners Program. Willene also wants to learn skills that help improve her patience and caregiving abilities.
Willene is one of approximately 15 million Americans providing unpaid care for someone with memory loss.
An additional goal of the program is to reduce the disparity in accessing needed services and support. Willene and other participants will gain access to web-based skill-building sessions, videos from experts, virtual support groups, and information and tips on caregiving-related topics. Participants receive a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, and all study-related activities take place at home to make study involvement more convenient.
Eligible candidates must live with or close by to a loved one with memory issues whom they care for at least eight hours a week. Candidates must have served as a caregiver for the past six months or longer.