Geriatrics researcher recruiting caregivers for dementia study

Antonio Terracciano
Antonio Terracciano, a researcher with the Florida State University College of Medicine.

Antonio Terracciano, a researcher with the Florida State University College of Medicine, is recruiting participants for one of two grants related to dementia.

Terracciano is seeking dementia caregivers from the Tallahassee community to measure the effectiveness of an educational program designed to improve their quality of life. With his other grant, Terracciano will test whether personality change can help predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

With a $250,000 grant from the Florida Department of Health, Terracciano will conduct a clinical trial for dementia caregivers. Using Tallahassee volunteers, he will test the effectiveness of the Powerful Tools for Caregivers educational program.

“Powerful Tools for Caregivers is designed to help caregivers to better manage the stress of caregiving,” said Terracciano, an associate professor in the Department of Geriatrics.

The six-week program was developed by Legacy Health System in Portland, Oregon. It provides caregivers with tools and strategies to improve self-care behaviors such as managing emotions, communication and improved use of community resources.

“We provide this training to people in the community through the Alzheimer’s Project and the Westminster Oaks community,” said Terracciano, “but we wanted to do this clinical trial to learn more about the program’s effectiveness.”

Although its effectiveness has been measured before in pre- and post-tests given to caregivers, Terracciano wants to take the research one step further with a randomized clinical trial.

“Research shows that the program is effective in creating more self-confident caregivers who take better care of themselves,” he said. “If this is true, can it also help with the behavioral symptoms in the person with dementia? That’s one of the ideas that we’ll test.”

The clinical trial is not without challenges: “Finding caregivers to participate will be difficult, because Tallahassee is not a huge city, and the funding only lasts through June. But my hope is that through this training we will see improvements not only in the caregiver but in the person with dementia.”

With his other grant, totaling $148,000 from the National Institute on Aging, Terracciano will examine data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. In that study, almost 2,000 participants had regular cognitive and personality evaluations beginning in 1958. As participants aged, 10 percent developed clinical dementia. Terracciano will explore this data sample to determine personality change in the preclinical phase of Alzheimer’s disease.

Common personality changes associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are increased sadness, increased irritability and decreased conscientiousness.

“These changes are part of the clinical diagnosis,” Terracciano said. “To date, it is unknown when these changes occur. I am looking at whether change in personality occurs before people show cognitive impairment.”

He is confident the sample will help provide clues.

“The measure used for personality is the gold standard in the field,” said Terracciano. “There were people who filled out this questionnaire every couple of years for 20 years before they developed dementia.”

He cited the benefits of using self-reported personality measures from the Baltimore study: “We want to say great things about our loved one and how it’s the dementia that causes these changes, but there is potential bias when that happens. It’s best to see how people describe themselves.”

There are also implications for diagnosis.

“If you see a little bit of deterioration in memory, and you also see deterioration in personality, that will strengthen the confidence of the diagnosis,” said Terracciano. “Whether personality changes can be used as a diagnostic tool is one of the ultimate goals of this research.”

Caregivers of those with dementia wishing to participate in Terracciano’s Powerful Tools for Caregivers study may contact his assistant, Lametra Smallwood, at or (850) 645-2993.