The Daily Stress and Health Study (DASH)

Dr. Steven Zarit

The goal of the DASH Study is to better understand the stresses that caregivers experience and how Adult Day Service use may protect them from the harmful effects of care-related stress on their health.

Our previous research has documented the benefits of adult day services (ADS) on the well-being of family caregivers providing assistance to an older adult with a dementing illness. A follow-up study that examined the effects of ADS on the person with dementia yielded similar findings, namely, in reducing the person with dementia’s behavior problems and improving mood. That study pointed to a 66% reduction in exposure to dementia-related symptoms for caregivers on days they used ADS, which we hypothesize could have implications for a caregiver’s health and well-being.

Building on these findings, The Daily Stress and Health Study examines daily stress, well-being, and health symptoms in family caregivers of people with dementia, and compares their functioning on days when their relatives are in ADS to when they are not. The study involves a face-to-face interview with caregivers, followed by daily diary interviews and daily saliva collection for eight consecutive days.

The combination of diary data and saliva samples will allow us to link behavioral data with biological stress markers that have the potential to advance our understanding of the pathways by which daily stressors affect health, and to help us learn how ADS and similar approaches might reduce that risk. The study is a collaboration between Penn State University (HDFS and BBH), the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, and the New Jersey Adult Day Services Association. Funding for the study is provided by the National Institute on Aging.