Alzheimer's Caregivers' Outlook May Vary by Race, Ethnicity

WEDNESDAY July 14, 2010 -- Racial and ethnic differences can give rise to differences in the way those caring for patients with Alzheimer's disease react emotionally, new research suggests.

The finding builds on previous indications that gender and the nature of the caregiver's relationship to the patient can similarly affect the way in which caregivers digest the emotional impact of their role.

"For those caring for a family member with Alzheimer's, the process of bereavement often begins long before the family member's physical death," lead author James McNally, from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, noted in a news release.

"These results bring into sharper focus some distinct social and cultural responses to the bereavement process," he added, "and help increase our understanding of the emotional costs of Alzheimer's."

McNally and his team were slated to present their findings this week at the Alzheimer's Association's International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Honolulu.

To explore how race and ethnicity might play a role in Alzheimer's caregiving, the researchers analyzed data on more than 600 Alzheimer's caregivers collected for a project conducted at the University of Pittsburgh's Institute on Aging.

This group of caregivers included blacks, whites and Hispanics, and even after accounting for caregiver-patient relationship, caregiver health, and socio-demographic background, McNally and his colleagues observed some clear differences that appeared to fall along racial and ethnic lines.

For example, the authors found that compared with black caregivers, whites and Hispanics were three to five times more likely to say they had been emotionally relieved by the death of their Alzheimer's patient.

What's more, whites were two times as likely to say they had some measure of "emotional acceptance" at the death of their patient than either black or Hispanic caregivers.

Whites, however, were also much more likely to say they felt angry at the deceased than the other two groups, while black caregivers were twice as likely as Hispanics to indicate the same.

"Those findings are fairly consistent with the existing research on family support," McNally noted.

The team concluded that those engaged in caregiver support services should consider the differing experiences and emotional needs that appear to be driven by the differing ethnicities and races of the caregiving community.

More information

For more on Alzheimer's caregiver support, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Posted: July 2010


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