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A study shows that caregivers who send loves ones with dementia to adult day services feel less stress and may be protected from illnessIf Mom or Dad has dementia, using adult day services (ADS) just twice a week can reap surprising psychological and physical benefits for family caregivers. Yes, caregivers. According to a new Pennsylvania State University study, ADS can reduce caregivers’ emotional distress and may even protect against illness.

It turns out that a hormone in the body produced by the adrenal gland, DHEA-S, gets depleted when you’re under chronic stress — and caregiving is unquestionably stressful.  The study suggests that ADS probably gives the body a break, allowing it to recover from stress and protect against harmful, long-term effects. Intriguing.

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“We’ve known for a long time that day care is good for caregivers because it gives them a break,” says Steven Zarit, lead research investigator and professor of human development and family studies at Penn State. “What we see in this study is that the day after a loved one has used ADS, the caregiver’s DHEA-S has improved. It’s like a restorative process and may help prevent health problems down the road.”

The study, conducted from 2009 to 2012, looked at 173 male and female caregivers ages 18 to 89, with an average age of 62. The majority (58 percent) were adult children, 28 percent were spouses and 4 percent were other relatives. In order to qualify for the study, caregivers and loved ones with dementia had to live together, with care recipients attending ADS at least twice a week.  Researchers conducted interviews over eight consecutive days, covering days when ADS was used and days without it.

Zarit and his colleagues found that caregivers were less angry and depressed on a day they used day care than when their family member didn’t attend. If the loved ones went to day care and the caregivers had a lot of stress that day, “they didn’t show an increase in depression,” Zarit says.

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“When it’s done right, adult day services are highly professional programs that provide a therapeutic setting and activities,” he says. “It’s one way to get predictable, reliable help and protect yourself from the harmful effects of stress.”

Have you noticed a connection between your mood and stress level when you take your parents with dementia to day care? What have you seen?

Photo: Mills-Peninsula Health Services/Google Images

Sally Abrahms writes about age 50-plus caregiving, housing and work. Follow her on Twitter!

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