People with Alzheimer's who have a close relationship with their caregivers - particularly if they are married to them - may decline less quickly than people whose relationship with their caregiver is not so close. There has been a lot of research on how looking after someone with Alzheimer's can affect caregivers but less research on how relationships with caregivers can affect the progression of the disease. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Utah State University studied 167 pairs of caregivers and Alzheimer's sufferers in Utah. They measured the physical, cognitive, functional and behavioural health of the Alzheimer's patients and interviewed their caregivers to assess the closeness of the relationship. At the start of the study all the patients scored similarly on the cognitive and functional tests. However, as time went on the participants whose caregivers remained particularly close to them retained more of their cognitive function - an effect that was particularly marked where the caregiver was a spouse and which was as marked as the effect of certain anti-Alzheimer's drugs. However, Constantine Lyketsos who worked on the study said that it might be the case that those people with milder symptoms stayed closer to their caregivers, rather than that the closeness of the relationship affected people's symptoms. The next step is to do more long-term research to see which of these alternatives is true.
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