Alzheimers Carers Writing Study: Study to Test if Writing Eases Caregivers’ Stress
For families who provide care to relatives suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s disease or other memory loss conditions, the stress and isolation can be a burden that’s hard to carry.
However, writing about their thoughts and feelings may be a way for caregivers to reduce their stress, and knowing that others share similar experiences may make them feel less isolated.
This is what Dr Howard Butcher, associate professor of nursing at the University of Iowa hopes to be able to show, by inviting caregivers to participate in the Family Caregivers Writing Study, click over here.
The month-long study will involve 20 minute sessions of writing three times a week, several short questionnaires, and the collection of saliva samples to measure stress levels.
The writing sessions and questionnaires can be done anywhere the caregiver has access to a computer and the Internet.
The Family Caregivers Writing Study will be run with the assistance of the University of Iowa’s Informatics department, and because it is an Internet-based study, participants do not have to live in Iowa, or even in the US.
Benefits of Writing Therapy
Other researchers have studied people who have had stressful experiences such as job loss, illness, abuse, natural disasters and loss of a spouse. These people wrote about their thoughts and feelings for a short time, usually only three 20-minute sessions.
Dr Butcher says the psychological and physiological health benefits from these short writing sessions could last for six to twelve months after taking part in the studies.
“The studies have shown that writing helps trauma survivors make meaning out of their life circumstances. This cognitive process can result in physiological changes in the autonomic and immune system by reducing stress and facilitating coping,” he said.
An expert on stress management, Dr Elizabeth Scott says the health benefits of journaling (as this form of writing is called) include:
- decreasing the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions
- improving cognitive functioning
- strengthening the immune system, thus preventing a range of illnesses
- counteracting many of the negative effects of stress.
What if I’m Not a Good Writer?
Dr Butcher assures participants that good writing skills are not necessary.
“We aren’t judging your writing, spelling, or punctuation. We only want to know if writing has an effect on your stress level. So, it’s best not to worry about trying to write well,” he says.
“ We want you to spend your 20 minutes writing freely about the day’s topic, not thinking about whether an English teacher would give you a good grade!”
Measuring Stress: Testing Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and is necessary for normal body functions such as glucose metabolism and regulation of blood pressure. However, it is known as the ‘stress hormone’ and occurs in higher levels when the person is stressed, particularly if the stress is chronic and ongoing.
Cortisol can be detected in saliva, so participants in Dr Butcher’s study will also take regular swabs to collect saliva samples which will be sent to the researchers before they start their writing sessions.
At the end of the month-long study, participants will collect saliva samples again and send them to the researchers to be analyzed for cortisol levels.