This story reports on a study about an important topic — how caregiver spouses of Alzheimer’s patients work at maintaining communications in their marriages despite the effects of the disease. The story nicely summarizes the researchers’ conclusions and suggests several potentially useful approaches caregivers can use to foster these relationships. But the overall coverage feels one-dimensional. The story never supports the headline claims with any kind of quantitative description of how these approaches “helped.” The story offers no independent perspective on the findings and doesn’t help readers evaluate the quality of the study. Addition of these details would have fleshed the coverage out significantly.
There are at least five million Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients in this country and three times that many caregivers supporting them. Ways to improve communication between loved ones and AD patients offers hope for those afflicted and their caregivers, allowing them to maintain the long-term relationships that have filled their lives.
Costs are not discussed. In fairness, the use of the strategies revealed by this study really costs nothing, but there has to be some educational component to train caregiver spouses in their use, and such instruction would carry some cost. The story could have given us some idea of what might be entailed.
The headline of this story reads, “Better communication can help couples affected by Alzheimer’s,” and the lead sentence says, “A new study identifies patterns of communication that can help couples affected by Alzheimer’s maintain a sense of connection, which could improve quality of life for both partners.” But these claims don’t seem to be supported in the body text of the story. There’s nothing in the story that quantifies how these couples were helped, and there’s no description to support the claims of increased connectedness or improved quality of life. The researchers reviewed and analyzed recorded conversations between patients and caregivers and then derived what seemed to be the most successful approaches in fostering communications. How those successful approaches were identified by the researchers, or what effects they had on the couples, are described only in the most general of terms. The story does suggest a “list” of actions caregivers can take in these conversations, which is helpful.
We’ll rate this category as Not Applicable since the study, and the story, were observational. The authors’ conclusions are based on how they interpreted the actions of caregivers during conversations with spouses that seemed to result in more favorable communications.
The story doesn’t give readers a sense as to where this study falls on the evidence quality spectrum. The study wasn’t randomized, nor was their a control condition which would have made the findings a lot higher quality in terms of evidence. The only evidence offered appears to be the conclusions drawn by the study’s observers. There are no numbers used to compare one approach against another, and no measurements other than the subjective interpretations of the investigators. The story can’t be blamed for the limitations of this type of study, but we think it could have helped readers evaluate the research by giving some sense of those limitations. Engaging a second, outside source would likely have helped in this regard.
While Alzheimer’s disease does carry some fear aspect among the public, this story does not seem to play on that fear but instead offers constructive ideas for maintaining communications within couples where one person has Alzheimer’s. The statistics offered in the story seem to line up with those presented in this NIH fact sheet.
The story quotes only a single source, the lead investigator, and offers no additional independent sources. It fails to mention funding for the study, nor does it offer any information that would allow readers to gauge potential conflicts.
There have been a number of studies on different approaches to enhancing communication for individuals who interact with dementia patients. The story does mention the fact that previous studies have been done, but it doesn’t really describe them or their results in any meaningful way. We give credit for the mention of previous research below under the Novelty criterion, but we’ll dock a point here for the lack of any real discussion of alternatives.
The behavioral approaches derived from this study seem to be easily adoptable by caregivers. However, the story mention that the couples were receiving specific training on these communication techniques. Is such training widely available? The story doesn’t say, and the average reader probably doesn’t know.
The story does point out that much of the existing research on communications for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients has centered on overcoming deficits while this study concentrated on those approaches which seemed to capitalize on successful efforts at enhancing the dialogue between patient and caregiver. That seems novel enough for us to deem this Satisfactory.
The story includes quotes from an interview with the lead researcher at Florida Atlantic University, and those quotes are different from the ones included in a news release issued by the university. So while we’re sure that the story went beyond the news release, the story does appear to lean on that release more than we’d ideally like to see. The single source named in the release is the same single source in the story. Some of the verbiage in the story seems to be a paraphrasing of verbiage in the release, and the points raised in the story seem to mirror those in the release. The story does enough to meet our standard here, but it would have been easy enough to flesh out the coverage significantly with additional sources and information.