USU researchers find close relationship with caregivers slows Alzheimer’s

Press ReleaseLOGAN — A group of Utah State University researchers and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and Boston University have demonstrated that the rate of clinical progression of dementia may be slowed by a close relationship with one’s caregiver. The findings will be published in the September 2009 issue of “The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences” by Oxford Journals and is available in electronic publication through the journal Web site, The research study “Caregiver–Recipient Closeness and Symptom Progression in Alzheimer Disease. The Cache County Dementia Progression Study,” started in 2002 and monitored 167 participants with Alzheimer’s disease for three years. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, measured the cognitive and functional status of the participants and the caregiver-reported relationship of the participants. It was found that higher levels of closeness to ones caregiver were significantly associated with a slower decline in both cognitive and functional domains, especially in persons with spouse caregivers. USU Researchers involved in the study are Maria Norton, associate professor of family, consumer and human development and principal investigator for the Cache County Memory Study, the population wide project from which persons with dementia were identified; JoAnn Tschanz, associate professor of psychology and director of the Cache County Dementia Progression Study; and Kathy Piercy, associate professor of family, consumer and human development; and Chris Corcoran, associate professor of mathematics and statistics. “This is the first study to demonstrate that, in addition to medications that help slow the progression of the disease, there are non-pharmacologic factors in the caregiving environment that may also help to extend functional abilities and quality of life for the person with dementia,” Norton said. “Considering the aging of the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation, finding ways to reduce risk for development of dementia and slowing the rate of decline in affected individuals are urgent public health priorities.” The researchers will now focus on finding the kind of caregiver activities that may promote the longevity and quality of brain function for those suffering from dementia. The new focus may lead to interventions that will enhance the caregiving relationship and help slow the decline caused by Alzheimer’s disease. USU has collaborated with Duke University and Johns Hopkins University since 1994 when it began the Cache County Memory Study. The study is funded by the National Institute on Aging and has followed an initial cohort of more than 5,000 persons aged 65 and older to study the genetic and environmental factors that affect risk for development of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. Persons identified with dementia by the Cache County Memory Study are then monitored by the Cache County Dementia Progression Study. The Cache County Memory Study follows individuals to the point of dementia onset to study what factors affect risk of developing the disease. The Dementia Progression Study is focused on what factors affect the rate of progression of the disease once it has started. “The extraordinary participation rate (90 percent of the entire eligible population) and unusual longevity of the population in Cache County, Utah (the U.S. county with the highest longevity, based on 1990 Census), have made our university and its setting an ideal place for such a large-scale epidemiologic study,” Norton said. Norton has been involved in managing the study since its inception in 1994 and has been the local director of the project since 2001. To learn more about the Cache County Memory Study and USU’s Center for Epidemiologic Studies, visit

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