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OHSU to Study Whether Complementary Medicine Reduces Extreme Stress in Alzheimer's Caregivers

Researchers will compare the use of meditation/mind-body medicine to other standard treatments in combating extreme stress faced by loved ones who care for Alzheimer’s patients

PORTLAND, Ore. –Caregivers of Alzheimer's patients – wives, siblings or other family members — often experience a level of stress so high that it can seriously impact their own health and even decrease their life expectancy. That's why researchers at Oregon Health & Science University are studying complementary medicine and various other therapies for these highly stressed individuals. The research is being conducted within OHSU's Oregon Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Neurological Disorders (ORCCAMIND).

"Previous studies have demonstrated how the caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's or other severe disease are actually suffering themselves," explained Barry Oken, M.D., director of ORCCAMIND and professor of neurology and behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine. "These family members and loved ones may suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and several other illnesses linked to stress."

To determine the best therapies for treating caregivers, Oken and his colleagues are looking for up to 108 caregivers/participants who are willing to take part in a research project. Study participants will be placed into one of three groups:

1)         A group of subjects who will take part in seven weeks of meditation and mind-body medicine, a practice which involves focusing on the current moment in order to diminish ongoing stresses and goal setting.

2)         A group that will take a seven-week training course that will teach them how to be a caregiver, including tools that make their jobs less stressful or intensive.

3)         A group that will receive home assistance from trained caregivers for a few hours a week for seven weeks so that they can take a break from their demanding caregiving schedule.

Successful stress reduction will be measured in a number of ways, including reports of self-perceived stress by the caregivers, heart rate variability, breathing irregularities and the levels of stress hormones in their bodies.

"Basically, we want to learn the best approach for treating caregiver stress," added Oken. "Currently there is little to no data to direct physicians and individuals. The purpose of this study is to provide more direction so that physicians can give their patient/caregivers the best advice." 

Kathi Lovejoy, 72, is a current study participant and a caregiver who took part in a smaller, previous study where mind-body medicine was evaluated for stress reduction. She cares for her husband who suffers from a form of dementia that impacts the temporal and frontal lobes of his brain.

"I found the sessions to be very helpful," explained Lovejoy. "In fact, to this day, I still use some of mind-body relaxation techniques that I learned as a participant in this study."     

To be considered for the new study, participants must be caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, experiencing stress, between the ages of 50 and 85 and be available to attend classes which begin Oct. 8, 2009, and take place once a week on Thursday afternoons.

For more information about the study, those interested in participating can call 503 494-5650.

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