Race May Affect Alzheimer's Caregivers' Responses
Relief, anger, acceptance all vary, study finds
(HealthDay News) --
Caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease can be an emotionally challenging task for anyone.
But how caregivers cope with the situation, and with the person's death, might depend on their race or ethnicity.
Researchers found that white caregivers were more than twice as likely as blacks or Hispanics to say they felt they had at least some level of "emotional acceptance" after the death of their loved one. But, whites were also far more likely to say that they were angry with the person who died.
"These results bring into sharper focus some distinct social and cultural responses to the bereavement process, and help increase our understanding of the emotional costs of Alzheimer's," James McNally, who presented his team's study findings at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's in Honolulu, said in a news release.
Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative disease of the brain that causes people to lose their memory and their ability to think clearly, according to the U.S. National Institute on Aging. One of the most difficult aspects of taking care of someone with Alzheimer's is that their personality slowly changes, and the person a caregiver once knew changes over time.
Initially, communication difficulties may make conversations difficult and the person with Alzheimer's may become frustrated easily. As the disease advances, the person with Alzheimer's may become paranoid or have hallucinations. He or she may even come to distrust the caregiver, which can be especially difficult when that person is a spouse or a son or daughter.
"For those caring for a family member with Alzheimer's, the process of bereavement often begins long before the family member's physical death," said McNally, of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.
His study included data from more than 600 Alzheimer's caregivers. The caregiving group included blacks, whites and Hispanics.
The researchers adjusted the data to account for the caregiver's relationship to the patient, the health of the caregiver and sociodemographic factors, such as where someone lives, education level and more.
Whites and Hispanics were three to five times more likely to say they were emotionally relieved by the death of their Alzheimer's patients.
Whites were much more likely to have some level of acceptance after the death, compared with blacks and Hispanics.
Whites were also more likely to say they had anger toward the deceased Alzheimer's patient than were blacks or Hispanics. But, blacks were twice as likely as Hispanics to say they felt anger at the deceased.
"Those findings are fairly consistent with the existing research on family support," McNally noted.
To provide the best support, the researchers said, caregiver support services should probably take into account someone's race or ethnicity.
On the Web
To learn about the signs of caregiver stress, visit the Alzheimer's Association.
SOURCES: HealthDay News; Alzheimer's Association's International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease, news release, July 12, 2010; U.S. National Institute on Aging (www.nia.nih.gov)
Author: Serena Gordon
Publication Date: July 31, 2011
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