The National Institute on Aging (NIA) today announced a major initiative to develop and test new ways for families and friends to manage the daily activities and the stresses of caring for people with Alzheimer's disease. Investigators at six institutions -- University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Tennessee at Memphis, University of Miami, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and Stanford University, Boston University Medical Center, and the University of Pittsburgh -- will participate in the project. They will study innovative approaches, including recently developed telecommunications and managed care programs, for providing caregivers with support, skills, and information.
Called REACH, for Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer's Caregiver Health, the group of studies will be sponsored primarily by the NIA, with additional support from the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). Both are components of the National Institutes of Health. Funding will total $2.1 million in the first year.
"Family caregivers are an important national resource and they need special attention," says Marcia G. Ory, Ph.D., chief of the NIA's Social Science Research on Aging program. "This research will test some new techniques and services that may be of great benefit to them, in addition to the current support networks that are now available."
Ory points out that Alzheimer's disease caregivers can be "hidden patients" themselves. They often face a "triple jeopardy," experiencing significant emotional stress, extreme physical and financial burdens, and, in some cases, dealing with apathy or hostile behavior from the person receiving care.
The REACH initiative is intended to address these problems on a larger and more rigorous scale than previous research. "At the end of this project, we will know a lot more about the feasibility and effectiveness of a variety of approaches for helping caregivers," says Ory. Ory is NIA's project officer for the studies. Mary D. Leveck, Ph.D., R.N., is project officer for NINR.
The 5-year effort is a critical part of NIA's support of research on Alzheimer's disease, a devastating neurodegenerative disorder that mostly affects older people and eventually leads to complete dependence. An estimated 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, with slightly more than half being cared for in the community. It is estimated conservatively that between 2.4 million to 3.1 million spouses, relatives, and friends are caregivers, forming the backbone of the Nation's informal long term care system for people with Alzheimer's disease. These numbers are expected to grow significantly as the population ages. This new effort will look primarily at caregivers of older people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease and will include a focus on African American and Hispanic families.
The principal investigators and their projects include:
The NIA leads the Federal effort supporting basic, clinical, social, and behavioral research on Alzheimer's disease, aging, and the special needs of older people. The Institute also supports the Special Care Units Initiative, a multisite project to evaluate the effectiveness and costs of special programs in nursing homes for Alzheimer's patients, their families, and nursing home staff. Findings from that research are expected within a year.