, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 101-109

Longitudinal analysis of multiple indicators of health decline among spousal caregivers

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The hazards for experiencing major health events were studied longitudinally among 150 spousal caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients and 46 married control participants. Based on longitudinal assessments from one to six years, the hazards of reaching any of three health events (extended physical illness or disability >1 month, unhealthy medical rating from a nurse interview, or hospitalization) were not significantly different in a group comparison of caregivers to controls (Cox proportional hazards assumption,p>.05). However, there was a trend [X2(1,N=107)=3.13,p=.08] for caregivers to have a greater hazard for serious illness. Among caregivers only, a greater hazard for reaching at least one of these health events was associated with providing more activities of daily living (ADL) assistance [X2(1, N=125)=3.83,p=.05] but not with problem behaviors of the AD patient (p>.05). These results suggest that providing extensive ADL assistance may have health implications for spousal AD caregivers, while caregiving, per se, does not. Furthermore, these physical health impacts of caregiving may be best characterized using multidimensional assessments. Contrary to our guiding hypothesis, caregivers encountering more problem behaviors of their AD spouse were less likely to be hospitalized, X2(1, N=145)=5.88, p=.02. This finding may reflect a reluctance by caregivers to schedule necessary medical care when their spouses are most problematic, and this may have further long-term health implications for caregivers.

Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by grant MH42840 (“Alzheimer Caregiver Coping: Physical and Mental Health”) from the National Institute of Mental Health.