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From Huff Post Post 50:

Researchers at Utah State University have discovered that the progression of decline in brain functioning among Alzheimer's patients may be dramatically slowed if caregivers simply change the patient's environment.

More specifically, caregivers who utilize higher levels of "positive" coping strategies -- problem-focused coping, seeking greater social support, counting blessings -- were able to slow down dementia's progress as measured by a variety of global standards. Historically, patients whose caregivers rely more on "negative" coping strategies -- avoidance, blaming themselves or others, wishful thinking -- resulted in a faster decline on cognitive and functional measures, researchers said.

Problem-focused coping targets the cause of a problem in a practical way, such as by gathering information and taking control of a situation, they said. For example, one might evaluate the pros and cons of various options for dealing with a stressful issue.

"This study is a groundbreaking event in the fight against dementia, including Alzheimer's, which has been so pervasively devastating for individuals and families, especially given the limited treatment options for patients and their families," said Dr.JoAnn Tschanz, professor at USU and the study's lead author. "Except for psychiatric symptoms, few studies have examined how caregiver characteristics affect the rate of dementia progression, and our findings indicate significant associations between caregiver coping strategies and the rate of cognitive and functional decline in dementia."

She said the Cache County Dementia Progression Study is the first published academic research to show evidence that environmental factors could slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, offering hope for those trying to mitigate the effects of the disease

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting one in eight older Americans. A degenerative disorder of the brain, Alzheimer's is the only disease among the top 10 causes of death nationally that, to date, cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

Tschanz told Huff/Post50 that caregivers should employ a problem-solving approach to caregiving. "Examples of this may include finding a stimulating activity to engage the care recipient, or ensuring appropriate medical follow-up for changes in symptoms," she said. "Future studies can build on our findings to develop new treatment options focusing on caregiver and other environmental factors."

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