Unique wearable helps researchers study dementia patients and familial caregivers

Unique wearable helps researchers study dementia patients and familial caregivers

Couples with higher relationship satisfactions showed greater linkage in their physiological responses (for example, heart rate and skin conductance) during face-to-face interactions, which suggests a greater “biological connection” between the couples.

This is according to a variety of studies, including a recently published paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Dr. Robert Levenson and Dr. Kuan-Hua Chen at the University of California, Berkeley.

In addition, there has been emerging evidence further suggesting that “being physically linked” with a partner’s physiological response may even have important implications to individuals’ mental and physical health.

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For example, findings from Levenson and Chen’s group suggested that a couple’s physiological linkage can predict their mental and physical health – in both healthy married couples and couples in which one person is the spousal caregiver of the other who is diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease.

“In the past, our tools were limited to consumer wearable watches, which are typically expensive, need to be charged frequently, have restricted rules of data access, and do not provide accurate location data that are necessary for us to give a meaningful interpretation of the observed behaviors.”

Dr. Robert Levenson, University of California, Berkeley

Building upon this, researchers wanted to better understand whether synchronicity of objective physiology indicators between dementia patients and their caregivers also correlates to the influences between each other outside the laboratory, in real life.

In one recent study, Levenson and Chen had 22 patients, and their spousal caregivers wear a wrist-mounted actigraphy-monitor in their homes for seven days. They found that the more “linked” (particularly more synchronized) the patient’s and the caregiver’s activity was, the less anxiety the caregiver reported.

THE PROBLEM

In all of the above studies, the linkage and relationship/health data were collected around the same time, and therefore the researchers could not know whether greater linkage produced better relationship/health outcome, or vice versa, or both at the same time.

In addition, research participants in these previous studies were mostly living in the San Francisco/Northern California areas. Therefore the researchers could not know whether the effects that they found could be generalized to couples living in other, more rural areas in the United States.

PROPOSAL

To address these issues, Levenson and Chen launched a research project that recruited 300 patients and their familial caregivers (with the total number of participants at 600) to study their activity linkage in their homes for six months.

Over the study period, both the patients and caregivers wear the Tracmo CareActive Watch continuously for those six months, and caregivers are monitored periodicall

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