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December 2016

Brain Health Registry gives thanks to caregivers

Greetings from Brain Health Registry! This holiday season, we would like to recognize and express gratitude for caregivers, who exemplify the giving spirit all year long.

Nearly 40 million Americans provide unpaid care for a loved one, according to a report by the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.   They care for people with different disabilities, injuries, and illnesses – brain disease, heart disease, autism, and other conditions.  Many are caregivers for someone who needs extra help due to age. Caregivers may help a relative or friend with personal needs, arrange outside services, manage finances, or visit regularly to see how their loved one is doing.

Caregivers have a difficult task before them: How do they provide the best care for their loved one AND take care of their own health and wellness? While the answer to this is complex, research shows that one of the most important things caregivers can do is to take care of themselves.

What can help caregivers thrive?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 74% of caregivers say they are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about maintaining their own health since becoming a caregiver. Caregivers may struggle to maintain their own physical and mental health, as the role of caregiving can be around the clock, challenging and stressful. Yet research has shown that exercising, connecting with friends, and scheduling breaks from caregiving activities can help caregivers maintain their health. But what other strategies help caregivers manage stress? Are there certain emotional experiences or attitudes that can help build resilience?

These are the questions we hope to answer. Your participation in this research effort will help us determine what strategies promote caregivers’ wellness. For resources on caregiving, please visit the National Institute on Aging special caregiving section or the Online Learning portal from the Alzheimer’s Association.

New focus on caregivers

In collaboration with researchers at UCSF’s Aging, Metabolism and Emotions Center, directed by Drs. Elissa Epel & Aric Prather, we are working to better understand the daily and psychological experience of caregivers. We’ve developed the Caregiver Experience questionnaire, which captures information about caregivers’ daily activities, emotions, and even benefits caregivers may gain from their experience. Many caregivers have already completed this new study task, providing researchers with more information on this important and under-studied topic. We thank you for your contribution.

As always, we are grateful for your participation in the Registry. Your contributions are critical in helping advance brain health research and developing new treatments to fight brain disease. Thank you!