What helps relieve the strain put on those caring for a loved one with dementia? Clinicians shared what they’ve learned from years of community-based work with caregivers and their families as part of the presidential programming on caregiving during APA’s Annual Convention.

David W. Coon, PhD, a psychologist and professor at Arizona State University, told attendees that interventions that combine caregiver education, skill training and cognitive-behavioral therapy appear to be the most effective for reducing depression and anxiety among caregivers.

Based on these findings and his prior work with Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, PhD, at Stanford University, he has developed Care Partners Reaching Out, a community-based program for caregivers in Arizona and Nevada. The 10-week program teaches caregivers coping skills and stress management, augmented with bi-weekly phone calls from program staff to reinforce these lessons. This approach helps caregivers tailor skills to their own concerns. The program will be launched with approximately 600 family caregivers over the next three years.

Other successful interventions include those that can be adapted to the needs of each family, said Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, director of the gerontology center at the University of Colorado.

“It’s very different to help someone work through the problems of wrestling the checkbook from a loved one versus working through the problems of helping someone who is no longer oriented to where they are,” she said. “Your intervention has to have flexibility built into it.”

Interventions also have to be accommodating since many families move to pursue better work opportunities and their caregiving may take place from a distance, she said.

All of these factors point to new and emerging areas ripe for research and program development by psychologists, she said.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” said Qualls.

—A. Novotney