Study Looks at Writing as Stress-Reducer

For families who provide care to Alzheimer's patients, stress and isolation can be a burden that's hard to carry. A University of Iowa researcher is conducting an Internet-based study to see if writing about their thoughts and feelings about care-giving can be a strategy to help those family caregivers reduce their stress.

Family members who provide care for patients with Alzheimer's or other conditions of memory loss will be asked to write about their experiences related to their care-giving roles for 20 minutes on three occasions during a week. Participants in the study may write in their homes or wherever they have access to a computer that is most convenient to them.

Participants in the study do not need to be "good writers" or worry about spelling or grammar because it is the effect of the writing that is being studied.

As a means to measure the effect of the writing on reducing stress, study participants also will be asked to complete five questionnaires.

Howard Butcher, Ph.D., UI associate professor of nursing and principal investigator of the UI Informatics Initiative-funded study, will evaluate whether expressing stress and other emotions in writing is a helpful way to deal with the often difficult emotions of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or a condition that involves problems with memory.

Written expression has been used with people who have experienced stressful and traumatic situations such as job loss, abuse, natural disasters and loss of a spouse. The strategy involves participants writing about their thoughts and feelings. Previous research by Butcher has shown that this type of writing promotes psychological and physiological health benefits after just three 20-minute writing sessions.

The studies have shown that writing helps trauma survivors make meaning out of their life circumstances. This cognitive process can result in physiological changes in the autonomic and immune system by reducing stress and facilitating coping.

For more information about participating in the study, visit