INCREASED RISK FOR DEMENTIA IN SPOUSE CAREGIVERS
While scrolling through Medical News Today, I found an interesting 5/8/10 article on a paper about to be published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society this month. Dr. Maria Norton of Utah State University and her colleagues found that spouse caregivers of people with dementia were six times more likely to go on to develop dementia than caregivers of spouses without dementia. We already know that caregivers sometimes are not very good at taking care of themselves and suffer much higher rates of physical and mental disabilities, but this is the first study to look at their risk for dementia.
This was a relatively small study, with 1,221 married couples who were followed over a period of 12 years. They were age 65 and older, all living in Northern Utah. None of them had dementia at the start of the study, and adjustments were made in the study for socioeconomic status, age, gender, genetic factors, etc. In follow-up, "30 cases (60 individuals) of dementia were diagnosed in both spouses, plus 125 where only the husband developed it, and 70 where only the wife developed the condition."
They found that for male caregivers of a spouse with dementia, their risk for developing a dementia was 11.9 times higher, and for women, it was 3.7 times higher. What we don't know is just how much of this risk is due to caregiver stress, and how much the shared environment played a part in it.
Something we need to keep in mind while looking at these numbers, is that MOST of the participants with spouses who developed dementia, did NOT go on to develop dementia themselves.