Predicting Attendance at Dementia Family Support Groups

A.SteffenDr. Ann Steffen is Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She oversees the Women’s Health Behaviors and Aging lab, has been the director of the university’s Gerontology Program. Her teaching, research and clinical interests all focus on mental health and aging, with a particular focus on the development and evaluation of community-based interventions for family caregivers of older adults.

Dr. Steffen earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., and a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Indiana University-Bloomington. She was a postdoctoral research fellow in Clinical Geropsychology at Stanford School of Medicine prior to joining the faculty of UM-St. Louis. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of Missouri. Recently she published a paper in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, titled: ‘Predicting attendance at dementia family support groups’.

Background of the study

Support groups are an important resource for family members of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementing illness. Through support groups, families get the opportunity to discuss common problems, receive information, and develop new coping skills.

We know that a large number of people attend Alzheimer’s support groups. The Alzheimer’s Association in the US, for example, reported a 2010 estimate of 6,663 support groups offered by their area chapters, attended by 39,551 participants. On the other hand, we don’t really have much solid research data to help us understand factors that lead these groups to be more or less helpful for specific family caregivers.

This study was intended to help us understand what might lead some individuals to drop out of a support group early on, suggesting that maybe these folks could benefit from other types of programs and services before trying a support group at a later date.

Findings

Family caregivers who perceived other caregivers in the group as warm, interested, and good at problem solving in their first meeting were more likely to return to the support group and showed improved attendance patterns compared to those who reported less positive first impressions. In contrast, seeing the group leader as warm and supportive was not related to the decision to return to the group after the first meeting. Family caregivers weighed the importance of the support received from other caregivers more heavily than that received from the support group leader.

Implications

We have provided the Alzheimer’s Association with an executive summary of these findings, along with specific recommendations for the annually required in-service trainings for support group facilitators. The field has the benefit of excellent reviews of practical group facilitation skills to assist those involved in training, so we are hopeful that our study is a reminder to re-freshen those skills on an annual basis.

About the department

Our lab is currently developing a health education intervention designed to increase informal caregivers’ knowledge about medication adherence in community dwelling older adults. We have found that managing medications is a common stressor for family caregivers, and one in which the consequences for mis-management can be quite serious (e.g., falls, hospitalizations, nursing home placements).

In this project, we will be comparing the helpfulness of two different approaches to online health education for informal caregivers of older adults, including those with dementia. The goals of this project are to increase reported knowledge and use of effective medication management strategies by women caring for an older relative, to decrease medication-related caregiving hassles and to determine level of caregiver satisfaction with each intervention type.

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