News Release: Research , School of Medicine , School of Nursing

Oct. 28,  2009

Study Seeks to Reduce Heart Disease Risk and Improve Health of Family Caregivers

News Article ImageSusan Bauer-Wu, PhD, RN

A team of Emory University researchers has received a five-year, $3.5 million program-project grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health. The research will focus on reducing heart disease risk and improving health and wellbeing among family caregivers of dementia and heart failure patients.

This grant, titled "Caregiver stress: Interventions to promote health and wellbeing," is one of only a few projects nationwide to explore self-care interventions for family members who care for loved ones with chronic illnesses. The project seeks to improve caregivers' abilities to cope with stressful circumstances and also to lessen the harmful effects of chronic stress, particularly those stressful effects that are associated with increased heart disease risk.

"More and more family members are providing care to their loved ones with prolonged and progressive illnesses," says study principal investigator Susan Bauer-Wu, PhD, RN, associate professor in Emory's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar.

"Chronic intense caregiving represents a situation of chronic stress, which takes a toll on a person's mental and physical health," says Bauer-Wu. "It is critical to pay attention to and help family members stay as healthy as possible while also taking care of their loved ones." The project will test two interventions, psycho-education and physical exercise, individually and in combination, among two groups of caregivers - those who care for loved ones with dementia and family caregivers of heart failure patients.

The education intervention to be tested will help family caregivers develop the knowledge, skill and attitude they need to provide confident and effective care for their loved ones. This intervention is important, Bauer-Wu says, because family caregivers generally aren't prepared or formally trained for the immense tasks and responsibilities of caregiving.

For the physical exercise intervention, caregivers will be provided with home instruction in a program of individually designed aerobic and resistance exercises to be performed either at home or by walking in their neighborhood. The link between exercise and heart health is well established, but it is often difficult for persons under stress and who are involved in what can be a full-time task of caring for a family member to engage in exercise, notes Bauer-Wu.

Andrew Miller, MD, study co-principal investigator, and a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the Emory School of Medicine, says, "The goal of the study is to identify the most effective self-care programs for family caregivers and understand the biological mechanisms by which they improve emotional wellbeing and minimize harmful effects on the heart." The dementia project intervention will focus primarily on African Americans, a particularly vulnerable group for heart disease. The program-project approach will combine the information from the separate projects to look for similarities and differences in how the intervention works to have a broader impact on outcomes and policy for caregivers in the future.

In addition to Bauer-Wu and Miller, the research team includes: Sandra Dunbar, RN, DSN, FAAN, FAHA, professor of nursing, Emory School of Nursing; Rebecca Gary, PhD, RN, assistant professor of nursing, Emory School of Nursing; Kenneth Hepburn, PhD, professor and associate dean of research, Emory School of Nursing; Marsha Lewis, PhD, RN, associate dean of education, Emory School of Nursing; and Monica Parker, MD, assistant professor of geriatrics, Emory School of Medicine.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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