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Help Not Wanted: Promote Independence In Alzheimer's

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When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, families often react with a helping hand, wanting to do anything they can to make that individual's life easier. However, the best Alzheimer's care may be little to no help at all, according to researchers.

Tiana Rust, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada, recently completed research on the dependency relationship between caregivers and seniors who have Alzheimer's. In what she calls a "dependency support script," she says family members and professional caregivers tend to model the type of care they give on what they assume the senior's capabilities are, rather than what that person can actually do for him or herself. In studying this, she found that these assumptions can actually harm the senior.

"The caregivers who believed that people with Alzheimer's disease in general are more likely to be at risk for injury and are more accepting of help were more likely to be dependence supportive than independence supportive," said Rust. "This suggests that caregivers are basing their behaviors partially on their beliefs rather than basing their behaviors on the actual needs and the actual abilities of the people that they're interacting with."

Rust also noted that the dependence relationship caregivers create is contrary to the one they want to encourage - that is, to promote the senior's independence. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules for how to care for an individual with Alzheimer's disease - the type of care will likely vary as the disease progresses. The Alzheimer's Association recommends caregivers plan a day for a senior based on the person's interests and abilities, keeping in mind the times of day the individual functions best. 

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