Geriatric Daycare Great for Patients, but What About Caregivers?

A German study has found that geriatric day care has positive effects on patients, with an improved feeling of well-being and stabilization of dementia symptoms. However, the study found that providing day care for elderly adults has little or no effect on their caregivers.

The findings of the four-year study (1994-1998) by Susanne Zank and Claudia Schacke are reported in the July 2002 issue of Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

Day care units seek to enhance patients' well-being and competence and also to reduce the burden placed on caregivers. The study by the two researchers from Freie Universitaet in Berlin found no significant effect among caregivers in such variables as well-being, life satisfaction, self-esteem, or depression. The "only indicator that came close to significance was the Job-Caregiving Conflict. Job conflicts tended to be reduced by the use of day care," added Drs. Zank and Schacke. However, qualitative data indicate that effects on the caregivers are subtler and might be missed by the standardized instruments that were used in the study.

On the other hand, day care participants showed "significant changes in cognitive and noncognitive dementia symptoms." The results also showed that partial cognitive abilities could be improved by general day care interventions even in participants with reduced capacity.

The study was held at six geriatric day care centers in different parts of Berlin. Forty-three day care patients were compared with an untreated matched group of 40 individuals. Matching criteria were age, gender, physical and mental health status, and socioeconomic status. The mean age for both groups was 79.5 years.

In addition to the positive effects of day care on patients' well-being and dementia, the study showed that patients "stabilized or improved on various measures, whereas untreated control patients worsened," added Drs. Zank and Schacke.

The two researchers noted that in Germany, public policy aims to support elderly persons as well as their caregiving relatives. "One method is the establishment of rehabilitative geriatric day care units." These institutions are available to everyone and cost between $50 and $70 per day.

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