The team's study is the first to compare a control group that did not use adult day care or comparable respite services with a treatment group that received adequate amounts of help. The results show that as little as two days per week of day care substantially lowers stress on the patient's family.
Dr. Steven H. Zarit, Penn State professor of human development and leader of the study, says, "Family caregivers are often under considerable stress and their health and mental health can suffer. This study shows that many of the stress symptoms are reduced when families use day care on a regular basis."
The study compared the primary family caregivers of dementia patients who participated in a statewide day care program in New Jersey, which uses part of its casino earnings to provide subsidies for the cost of service to low and moderate income families, with a comparable population in northeastern Ohio where day care programs and subsidies are limited. After three months, the family caregivers of patients who participated in day care reported higher well-being and significantly more positive appraisals of stressors than the control group. Primary stressors, including overload, worry, strain and role captivity, were measured as well as three indicators of well-being, depression, anger and positive feelings.
Zarit says, "Care was provided in existing programs located in a variety of different communities throughout New Jersey. It would be feasible to implement this program in many other settings by building upon existing community programs."
He added, "Day care is often an overlooked resource in the community until there is a crisis. It may be of benefit if both caregivers and patients could use day care earlier. Day care is a cost efficient and cost effective way to provide help."
The participants in the study were typical of many patients and caregivers throughout the U.S. A majority of the caregivers were women and were the daughters or wives of the patients. The caregivers' ages were typically about 58.7 years in the treatment group and 60.2 years among the controls. The patients' ages were 78.1 for the treatment group and 77.2 years for the controls. The sample was predominately White and caregivers' educations were also similar. About a third of the caregivers were employed outside the home and they were able to continue their employment thanks to day care. Median household income of caregivers was under $30,000 in both groups.
Co-investigators on the study, which was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, include Mary Ann Parris Stephens and Aloen Townsend, Department of Psychology, Kent State University; and Rickey Greene, Department of Health and Senior Services, State of New Jersey. The group presented its preliminary findings at the meeting of the Gerontological Society of America in November, 1996, and more recently detailed the study at a meeting of day care providers at the New Jersey Department of Health on January 31.
EDITORS: Dr. Zarit can be contacted at (814) 863-9980.