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Strategies that teach a caregiver to manage a loved one's illness also helps in coping with death

Pittsburgh, Aug. 1 -- An intervention aimed at preventing depression and easing the burden of caring for a relative with dementia also helps to prevent complicated grief and depression following the death of the loved one, according to a University of Pittsburgh-led study. The findings, which are published in the August issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, could help the millions of American families caring for relatives with dementia. Approximately 4.5 million Americans with Alzheimer's disease live at home with 75 percent cared for by family members.

The study, initially designed to establish methods for preventing depression and increasing coping skills during the caregiving process, sought to determine who among caregivers were at risk for complicated grief and depression after their care-recipients died. Surprisingly, the interventions aimed at helping the caregiver cope while the care-recipient was living also helped the caregiver cope with the recipient's death, preventing complicated grief and depression. According to principal investigator and lead author Richard Schulz, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, the finding was totally unexpected.

Complicated grief most often occurs following the death of someone in a very close and loving relationship. Key features include a sense of disbelief regarding the death, anger and bitterness over the death, recurrent pangs of painful emotions with intense yearning and longing for the deceased, avoidance of situations and activities that are reminders of the loss, and a preoccupation with thoughts of the loved one, often including distressing, intrusive thoughts related to the death. Since it is a newly characterized condition, not yet included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, little is known about how to treat and prevent complicated grief. In fact, report the authors, the results of this study are the fir
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Contact: Jocelyn Uhl Duffy
UhlJH@upmc.edu
412-647-3555
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
3-Aug-2006


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