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The Gerontologist 44:508-519 (2004)
© 2004 The Gerontological Society of America

Survival of Persons With Alzheimer's Disease: Caregiver Coping Matters

McKee J. McClendon, PhD1,, Kathleen A. Smyth, PhD1 and Marcia M. Neundorfer, PhD2

Correspondence: Address correspondence to McKee J. McClendon, PhD, University Memory and Aging Center, Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland, 12200 Fairhill Road, Cleveland, OH 44120. E-mail: mjm18{at}

Purpose: Although persons with Alzheimer's disease (AD) require increasingly more assistance with activities of daily living as their disease progresses, the caregiving environment has received little attention as a source of predictors of their survival time. We report here on a study to determine whether variation in survival time of persons with AD can be better explained by including caregiver variables such as coping style and depressive symptoms as predictors. Design and Methods: A sample of 193 persons with AD residing in the community and their family caregivers was used to estimate the parameters of a Cox regression model of survival time that included both caregiver characteristics and care-recipient impairments as covariates. Results: Caregiver wishfulness–intrapsychic coping was related to shorter care-recipient survival time, but instrumental and acceptance coping and caregiver depressive symptoms were not associated with survival time. Care-recipient impairments (dependency in activities of daily living, low score on the Mini-Mental State Examination, and problematic behaviors) were associated with shorter survival time. Implications: Because this study is the first to report the link between caregiver coping and care-recipient survival, further study to understand the dynamics is required. We discuss several possible mechanisms, including the possibility that caregivers engaging in wishfulness–intrapsychic coping are less psychologically available to the person with dementia. These caregivers may therefore provide less person-centered care that is responsive to the true capacities of the person with dementia, and thus they may inadvertently contribute to excess disability and consequent accelerated decline. Because wishfulness–intrapsychic coping was uncorrelated with instrumental or acceptance coping, our findings suggest that interventions to enhance coping skills among caregivers, which have focused primarily on increasing problem solving and acceptance coping, also may have to include specific attempts to reduce wishfulness–intrapsychic approaches to benefit not only the caregiver but the care recipient as well.

Key Words: Dementia • Depression • Cox regression • Coping • Family caregiving

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