Adult day care reduces stress for dementia patient caregivers

Caregivers can greatly reduce their stress by regularly using adult day care for the dementia patients they look after, a new study suggests.

"Caring for someone with dementia often involves high levels of daily stress," lead researcher Steven H. Zarit told Reuters. "This amount of stress exerts wear-and-tear on the body."

Before the study, some people believed that adult day services actually caused more stress because of the extra effort it takes to get these dementia patients ready in the morning. But stress doesn't mean just having a lot to do in your day - there is a biological component to it as well.

When the adrenal glands produce high amounts of the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, or DHEA-S, it helps the body combat the damaging effects of stress.

"What we found is that each day a caregiver uses adult day care interrupts a part of the body's stress response, and leads to a more normal level of a key stress hormone, DHEA-S," Zarit explained.

The study, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, adds that prolonged exposure to stress can deplete DHEA-S levels.

Researchers examined 151 people caring for a family member with dementia who used an adult day care service at least twice a week. They reported their stress and mood levels, and through saliva testing, the study's team analyzed DHEA-S levels five times a day.

Results showed that caregiver DHEA-S levels were higher on the days in which adult day care was used, most likely because it gave them a much needed break, the researchers said. Coupled with that, those who used the adult care services more reported being in a better mood. Improved mood mirrored days when DHEA-S levels were high.

Zarit and colleagues recommend caregivers use adult day cares that offer therapeutic services to help their patients.

"Activities such as exercise, cognitive stimulation and social programs can be very helpful for maintaining functioning, and can be carried out in a respectful way," he said.

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