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Physical Activity and Psychosocial and Mental Health of Older Caregivers and Non-Caregivers

It is estimated that nearly 11 million Americans provide in-home, unpaid care for persons with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. As a result of caregiving stressors, caregiving has been linked with increased levels of depression, anxiety, and anger; compromised physical health and immune function; and increased mortality. Few studies have been conducted on physical activity (PA) in older caregivers, a population at risk for mental and physical decline. To assess and compare PA, PA preferences, psychosocial determinants of PA, and mental health indicators between older non-exercising caregivers and non-caregivers. Caregivers (N 5 24) and non-caregivers (N 5 48) completed questionnaires and wore an accelerometer for 7 consecutive days. Few significant differences were noted in objectively measured or subjectively reported PA between caregivers and non-caregivers. Non-caregivers reported greater social support to exercise from family members. Caregivers reported significantly greater anxiety, depression, stress, and negative health symptoms. Caregivers were significantly more likely to prefer exercise in 10-min bouts. Caregivers are in need of interventions to increase PA and health. Efforts to help caregivers participate in multiple shorter bouts of exercise during the day could be more effective than recommending one continuous 30-minute bout.

As the number of people with dementia increases, so too will the number of caregivers. The current study highlights the need for effective PA interventions for caregivers as evidenced by poorer physical and mental health and lower levels of objectively measured physical activity than same-aged non-caregivers. The current study has important implications for the development of PA interventions to improve the health and quality of life of caregivers namely, interventions must acknowledge the greater barriers to PA faced by this population and be tailored to their lives, needs, and preferences.


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