A study of caregivers of Alzheimer's patients and non-caregivers done by the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada revealed that seniors are being stereotyped as grouchy, inflexible to change, and mostly living in nursing homes, when the opposite is true.

The study, which surveyed 53 caregivers and 53 non-caregivers, quizzed the participants with multiple choice answers about aging in general and about Alzheimer's disease (AD). Overall knowledge about AD and aging was low. The caregivers knew more about AD than the non-caregivers (58 to 42 per cent respectively), but surprisingly, they did not know any more about aging (40 and 39 per cent).

The study results are published in the latest issue of Educational Gerontology.

The results were surprising and of some concern, said lead author Tiana Rust, a PhD candidate in the University of Alberta Department of Psychology. "Anytime caregivers are basing their care on stereotypes rather than the individual's needs, that can be a problem. When expectations are wrong, it could affect behaviour in negative ways."

For instance, clerks talking loudly to seniors before assessing whether they even have hearing problems; or perhaps expecting less from a nursing home resident than he or she is capable of, therefore undermining their sense of self-esteem, Rust said.

One of the main misconceptions brought out by the study was the number of seniors in long-term care facilities. While almost 40 per cent of those surveyed thought 25 per cent of people over 65 were in institutions, only five per cent actually are. "People who require a stay in long-term care are thought to be either physically or cognitively incapable of living on their own, and if people are assuming that one-quarter of seniors over 65 require that kind of help, that's making the assumption that a lot of older adults aren't capable of caring for themselves," said Rust.

As well, about 60 per cent of those surveyed in a questionnaire thought that adaptability to change among people 65 or older was either rare or present among only half of them. The correct answer is that most seniors are adaptable. And almost 40 per cent of caregivers assume that most old people feel 'grouchy', when in fact, most say they are seldom angry.

On the test quizzing about AD knowledge 25 per cent of caregivers also displayed the misconception that incontinence is always present in Alzheimer patients. "This was surprising because fewer than 40 per cent of the residents at the caregivers' facilities were incontinent," Rust noted. "That has implications for promoting continence."

The study shows that more education is needed about aging, Rust said. "It's important that people learn more about what it is to be an older adult and also to know what Alzheimer's and dementia are about. It is important to recognize that older adults are a very heterogenous group, ranging from very vital and capable to those in the last stages of dementia. They fall all along the continuum."


For more information on the study contact:
Tiana B. Rust
PhD candidate
Department of Psychology
University of Alberta

Contact: Bev Betkowski
University of Alberta

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