A team of researchers in the Virginia Tech Department of Human Development have received a grant to conduct research into how families in Appalachia manage care for older relatives with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund awarded the grant to Jyoti “Tina” Savla, an associate professor; Karen Roberto, University Distinguished Professor of Gerontology; and Rosemary Blieszner, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Human Development.

The primary aim of the research will be to learn from families in Appalachia about their approaches to caregiving, whether they need and use community services currently, and what their expectations are for formal service use in the future. The research, based on a guiding model of caregiving stress and influences on service use, will incorporate multiple pieces of information about both individual and community factors that affect care needs and service use.

The research team will use multiple strategies to gather information. First, they will invite 10 family caregivers to participate in in-depth, in-person interviews to provide insights into their caregiving situations, as well as their needs and difficulties in receiving informal and formal help services. Guided by the themes and patterns of those interviews, the researchers will ask 60 family caregivers to respond to an in-depth telephone survey followed by brief calls about daily events for seven days.

“We’ve found that this combination of using open-ended questions, and then asking specific questions to a larger group of participants, is very effective for generalizing and validating the qualitative findings,” Savla said.

The research team will summarize the qualitative interviews by grouping similar answers and identifying the different perspectives in the interviews. Team members will then use statistical methods to identify groups and trends in the survey and daily events data.

“The findings from this project will reveal the diverse approaches to caregiving for people with Alzheimer’s disease living in Appalachian Virginia,” Savla said.

The Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund was established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1982 to stimulate innovative investigations into Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders along a variety of avenues, such as the causes, epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of the disorder; public policy and the financing of care; and the social and psychological impacts of the disease upon the individual, family, and community.

Savla’s research primarily focuses on the biopsychosocial aspects of daily stress that family caregivers of older adults face. Her statistical expertise includes working with intensive longitudinal designs, missing data, dyadic and multilevel data, and time series and non-linear modeling techniques.

Savla holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in human development from the University of Bombay, India, and a doctorate in child and family development from the University of Georgia. She received a National Institute of Mental Health fellowship for postdoctoral work at Pennsylvania State University.

Roberto conducts research to understand rural older women, family relationships, coping with chronic conditions, caregiving, and elder abuse. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and her master’s degree and doctorate in human development at Texas Tech University.

Blieszner’s areas of research interest include spiritual resiliency and aging, mild cognitive impairment in older adults, and the impact on families of caring for older relatives. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Mercyhurst College, a master’s degree from Ohio State University, and a doctorate from Pennsylvania State University.