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Impact of an Individualized Physical Activity Intervention on Improving Mental Health Outcomes in Family Caregivers of Persons with Dementia: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Carol J. Farran Olimpia Paun Fawn Cothran Caryn D. Etkin Kumar B. Rajan Amy Eisenstein and Maryam Navaie

*Corresponding author: Carol J. Farran carol_j_farran@rush.edu


Purpose: This study examined secondary benefits of an individualized physical activity intervention on improving dementia family caregivers’ subjective burden, depressive symptoms and positive affect. Design and Methods: A community-based randomized controlled trial (RCT) was implemented with family caregivers of persons with dementia (N = 211) who received the Enhanced Physical Activity Intervention (EPAI: treatment intervention, n = 106) or the Caregiver Skill Building Intervention (CSBI: control intervention, n = 105). Interventions were delivered over 12 months, including a baseline home visit and regularly spaced telephone calls. Data were collected in person at baseline, 6 and 12-months; and telephonically at 3 and 9-months. The EPAI integrated physical activity and caregiving content while the CSBI focused only on caregiving content. Descriptive, bivariate and intention-to-treat analyses using generalized estimating equations (GEE) were performed to examine secondary benefits of the EPAI on family caregiver burden, depressive symptoms and positive affect. Results: Compared to caregivers in the CSBI group, caregivers in the EPAI significantly increased their overall and total moderate physical activity and showed a positive interaction between the intervention and time for positive affect at both six (p = 0.01) and 12-months (p = 0.03). The EPAI was significantly associated with improving burden at 3 months (p = 0.03) but had no significant effect on depressive symptoms. Implications: Caregiver involvement in an individualized physical activity intervention was associated with increased overall and total moderate physical activity and improved positive affect from baseline to 12 months. Improved positive affect may help caregivers to feel better about themselves and their situation, and better enable them to continue providing care for their family member for a longer time at lower risk to their own mental health.

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