Researchers developed a communication intervention program to help couples affected by dementia.
Published: by Interim HealthCare in Alzheimer’s
When a patient is diagnosed with dementia, the disease takes a toll on his or her spouse as well. With years of shared memories, it’s hard to watch a partner’s cognitive ability decline. The Alzheimer’s Association encourages spousal caregivers to prepare for changes in their relationships and possibly join a support group to help process the challenging emotions.
When these couples struggle to communicate effectively, it can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, loneliness and loss of intimacy. However, verbal communication and social interactions are important for slowing cognitive decline in dementia patients. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University recently conducted a study to test certain communication interventions, and found that these actions had positive effects on both the caregivers and dementia patients.
The researchers developed the Caring about Relationship and Emotions program to focus on communication between couples when one partner has dementia. While marriage counseling exists for these situations, this intervention is an entirely new way of teaching these couples to communicate effectively.
CARE aims to reduce disabling behaviors in caregivers, such as criticizing or questioning dementia patients’ memories. Simultaneously, the program works to decrease unsociable behaviors in care receivers, such as not making eye contact or losing interest in conversations.
The program calls for intervention meetings, in which the researchers coach the caregivers on effective communication methods. The goal is to increase caregiver awareness of the importance of communication with a partner, while also alerting them to spouses’ possible responses or reactions. Equipped with this enhanced knowledge of communication and dementia, the caregiver has the tools to maintain a caring relationship. The researchers also meet with the dementia patients to encourage better verbal expression.
Testing communication intervention
The researchers recruited fifteen older couples and gave each a manual with ten weekly lessons concerning different communication issues. Each week, the researchers met with each care receiver and caregiver separately and then together.
To analyze the outcomes of the CARE intervention, the researchers video-taped the meetings and used a rating scale to measure the couples’ communication over the ten-week period. The results showed an improvement in caregiver social skills, including a decrease in disabling communications. After the intervention, the dementia patients also had significantly better social communication skills, including improved focus, eye contact, joking and response time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 80 percent of dementia patients receive care at home. This new communication invention program could be key to helping these caregivers contribute to their spouses’ overall wellbeing and quality of life.