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Adult Day Service Boosts Beneficial Stress Hormone in Caregivers

A new study reveals family caregivers have an increase in the beneficial stress hormone DHEA-S on days when they use an adult day service for their relatives with dementia. DHEA-S controls the harmful effects of cortisol, another hormone that the body produces in response to stress. Higher levels of DHEA-S are associated with better long-term health. This new finding supports the importance of using community-based services like adult day services as a strategy to reduce caregiver stress.

Researchers at Penn State University and the University of Texas at Austin, led by Steven H. Zarit, PhD, studied 151 family caregivers of individuals with dementia who attend adult day services at least twice a week. Caregivers collected their own saliva five times a day for eight consecutive days and kept a diary of the collection times. The samples were refrigerated and later shipped back to the laboratory. Caregivers were also interviewed each evening on those eight days about their daily stressors and mood. Caregivers were questioned about care-related stressors and non-care-related stressors, as well as positive daily experiences.

The study confirmed that care-related stressors were significantly lower on the days the individual with dementia attended adult day services, compared with days not attending adult day services. More importantly, adult day services were significantly associated with increased levels of DHEA-S on the days after using adult day services.

"This is one of the first studies to show that DHEA-S can be modified by an intervention, which, in our case, was the use of an adult day care service," said Steven Zarit, Distinguished Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Penn State. "The study is also one of the first to demonstrate that interventions to lower stress on caregivers, such as the use of adult day care services, have an effect on the body's biological responses to stress. We know that caregivers are at increased risk of illness, because of the long hours of care they provide and the high levels of stress. These findings suggest that use of adult day care services may protect caregivers against the harmful effects of stress associated with giving care to someone with dementia."

This research was funded by The National Institute on Aging and results were published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.