Husbands or wives who care for spouses with dementia are six times more likely to develop the memory-impairing condition than those whose spouses don't have it, according to results of a 12-year study led by Johns Hopkins, Utah State University, and Duke University. The increased risk that the researchers saw among the caregivers was on par with the power of a gene variant known to increase susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease, they report in the May Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
A few small studies have suggested that spousal caregivers frequently show memory deficits greater than spouses who aren't caregivers. However, none examined the cognitive ability of caregivers over time using standard, strict criteria to diagnose dementia, a serious cognitive disorder characterized by deficts in memory, attention, judgment, language, and other abilities.
To get some answers, Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor Peter Rabins, MD, MPH, and a team led by associate professor Maria Nortion, PhD, of Utah State University, examined 1,221 married couples ages 65 or older. These individuals were part of the Cache County (Utah) Memory Study, which has identified over 900 persons with dementia in the community since 1995.