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VA expands caregiver support program developed by NIA-funded researchers

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expanding support nationally to caregivers of veterans with Alzheimer’s disease with a program developed by NIA-funded researchers. The REACH VA (Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health in VA) program is the first national clinical implementation of a proven behavioral intervention for caregiver burden and stress. Results of the original REACH program were published in 2006.

REACH VA involved 127 caregivers connected to 24 VA medical centers. The median age for the caregiver was 72 and the majority of the participants were spouses. For 6 months, the REACH VA caregivers were provided with a number of options based on their needs: individual in-home and telephone counseling sessions; telephone support group sessions; a caregiver quick guide with 48 behavioral and stress topics; education on safety and patient behavior management; and training for their individual health and well-being.

Caregivers for veterans with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia typically reported feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, cut off from family and friends, lonely, prone to bouts of crying and having worse physical health than the year before. After participating in the REACH VA program, caregivers reported their burden reduced; drops in depressive symptoms; fewer frustrations, including those that have potential for abuse; and decreases in dementia-related behaviors from the veterans they cared for. Caregivers also reported they were able to spend fewer hours per day devoted to caregiving duties.

Reference: Nichols LO, Martindale-Adams J, Burns R, Graney MJ, Zuber J. Translation of a Dementia Caregiver Support Program in a Health Care System—REACH VA. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(4):353-359.