“There are many studies showing that caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s have poorer general health than others,” said Lin Saunders, DDS, MS, professor, EIOH General Dentistry. “However, we can’t find any information about possible effects on oral health.”
That’s why Dr. Saunders and Teresa Galbier, MPA, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association of the Finger Lakes, are collaborating to gain some initial data about it, thanks to a mini grant funded by the University of Rochester‘s Center for Community Health.
An estimated 5.2 million people age 65 and older in the U.S. and approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65 have Alzheimer’s disease. Providing care for persons with this complex and debilitating disease over its 12-15 year duration is an immense task involving the efforts of many trained health care professionals.
But there’s an estimated 15 million Americans who are untrained and unpaid, usually family members or friends, who become informal caregivers. “Documentation is clear that caregiving can have adverse effects on the general health of those involved,” explained Dr. Saunders. “For example, studies of dementia caregivers show that they were more likely than non-caregivers to report that their own health was fair or poor.”
Also, Alzheimer’s caregivers were more likely than caregivers of other older people to say that caregiving made their health worse. This project, which consists of a pilot survey of members of caregivers’ support groups in the Finger Lakes, is to develop insight into the extent to which the extensive caregiving provided by these informal Alzheimer’s caregivers may affect their own oral health.
“Having such initial insight may provide the basis for larger studies and possibly new recommendations regarding prevention and care regarding their oral health,” added Dr. Saunders, who added he hopes Eastman Institute for Oral Health and The Finger Lakes Alzheimer’s Association will foster a partnership with other collaborative projects in the future.