Johns Hopkins logoDementia, which simply means ‘deprived of mind’, is known to be a serious memory-impairing condition. It is now ironically claimed, that caretakers of patients suffering from dementia are six times more likely to develop dementia themselves. The 12-year study, was conducted in the Utah State University, and Duke University, which probably revealed, that among caregivers, the disease power of a gene variant is known to increase susceptibility to Alzheimer’s.

Some small studies apparently reflect that spousal caregivers frequently show memory deficits, greater than spouses who aren’t caregivers. But not a single study, analyzed, the cognitive ability of caregivers over time using standard, strict criteria to diagnose dementia, a serious cognitive disorder characterized by deficits in memory, attention, judgment, language, and other abilities.

The study was led by Johns Hopkins, psychiatry professor Peter Rabins, M.D., M.P.H. For the analyses, he and a team led by associate professor Maria Norton, Ph.D., of Utah State University, investigated 1,221 married couples aged 65 or older. All the participants resided in Cache County (Utah) itself. Since, 1995 the study authors, were screening volunteers for dementia. These volunteers were initially given questionnaires. This would help evaluate their cognitive status.

Those, whose questionnaires suggested possible dementia, were made to undergo a comprehensive clinical assessment. They were administered by specially trained nurses and technicians. Then, a team led by a geriatric psychiatrist and a neurophysiologist estimated the findings. They also, provided an appropriate diagnosis of dementia to these volunteers.

In the sample, 2,442 married persons were investigated. The study authors then diagnosed 255 individuals with dementia. It appeared to them that those individuals, whose spouses had already been diagnosed, may be six times likely to the condition themselves, than compared to those without an affected spouse. This risk is comparable to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This disease may be associated with a gene variant APOE4. The authors claim, that this gene variant is well studied and known. Even when factors like socioeconomic status, that may influence the risk of developing dementia, were considered the findings were held.

Norton shared that the long-term nature, of the new research made the results different from earlier ‘snapshot’ studies showing memory loss in spousal caregivers. She remarked that the declines in memory were real and persistent. It probably, was not just a point in time where they weren’t performing well on tests.

Rabins remarked that the findings are highly representative of the community, since the vast majority of residents aged 65 or older are participating in the ongoing research. Initial studies, have been stressing on the patients memory centers and their caregivers but not a community at large. Rabins, Norton, and their colleagues theorized that the exertion of care giving might be responsible for the increased dementia risk for spouses. However, more studies have to be conducted to determine the mechanism that leads to this.

Rabins said, “Care giving has positive aspects, as well as negative ones. If we can boost the positive aspects and reduce the negative ones, we may be able to reduce a caregiver’s risk of developing dementia.

Robins shared, that if their idea is accurate, then the doctors dealing with patients suffering from dementia should help lessen the stress for spousal caregivers. More studies are being conducted, to analyze how care of a spouse with dementia can affect caregivers.

The study is published in May Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.