Emotional closeness with caregivers can significantly help slow disease progression in Alzheimer's patients, according to researchers.
The study led by Johns Hopkins and Utah State University researchers suggests that a particularly close relationship with caregivers may give people with Alzheimer's disease a marked edge over others in retaining mind and brain function over time.
"We've shown that the benefits of having a close caregiver, especially a spouse, may mean the difference between someone with AD staying at home or going to a nursing facility," said Dr Constantine Lyketsos, M.H.S., the Elizabeth Plank Althouse Professor in Alzheimer's Disease Research and director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer's Treatment Centre.
During the study, the researchers examined 167 pairs of caregivers and Alzheimer's patients.
Starting in 2002, the researchers met with patient-caregiver pairs in their homes every six months for periods up to four years. At each meeting, the patients underwent a battery of tests to assess physical, cognitive, functional and behavioural health.
The researchers found marked differences between patients whose caregivers had scored their relationships as close or more distant on the surveys.
Patients whose caregivers felt particularly close to them retained more of their cognitive function over the course of the study, compared to patients with more distant caregivers.
They also scored better on a functional test called the Clinical Dementia Rating, remaining significantly closer to baseline over time compared to those with more distant caregivers.
Moreover, the "closeness effect" was heightened for pairs in which the caregiver was a spouse.
"We've shown that the benefits of having a close caregiver, especially a spouse, may be substantial," said Lyketsos.
The difference in cognitive and functional decline over time between close and not-as-close pairs can mean the difference between staying at home or going to a nursing facility," Lyketsos added.
The study appears in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.