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Treatment of Alzheimer's symptoms may also relieve caregiver burden

Effectively treating certain symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may reduce the burden experienced by their caregivers, according to a new Sunnybrook study released today.

“Of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, 50 to 90% may display neuropsychiatric symptoms, also referred to as the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). These symptoms include depression, agitation, hallucinations and inappropriate sexual behaviour,” says Dr. Krista Lanctôt, Senior Scientist, Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute and lead author of the study.

Previous studies found the severity of BPSD is the strongest predictor of caregiver burden. Lanctôt and her team built on those findings, and looked at how the management of a patient's BPSD symptoms with medication could affect caregiver burden.

Caregiver burden is a term that encompasses the subjective measure of the physical, psychological, emotional, social and economic strain of caregiving. "Caregiving is associated with increased rates of depression and anxiety, and these negative effects can adversely affect the patient as well," says Dr. Nathan Herrmann, Head, Geriatric Psychiatry at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

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After analyzing data from 24 existing studies, the researchers found that while medications such as cognitive enhancers and antipsychotics may improve symptoms of an Alzheimer's patient, and in turn reduce caregiver burden, there is insufficient evidence to determine the true effect of these drugs.

The researchers identified several areas for further research, including studying the difference in burden for a professional versus an informal caregiver. "Given the vital role that caregivers play, and the seriousness of the personal effects associated with caregiving, more consistent and comprehensive assessments must be conducted in future to improve the quality of life of both the caregiver and the patient," says Lanctôt.

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