Dr. Jinyu Liu Discusses Caregiver Peer Mentoring Study for Aging and Equity Series

by Adam Felts

The AgeLab’s Aging and Equity speaker series highlights academics who conduct research at the intersection of age, race, and ethnicity. The final series presentation of 2022, held on October 20, featured Dr. Jinyu Liu, Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work, who discussed an intervention study she conducted on the benefits of a peer mentoring program for Chinese family caregivers.

To begin her presentation, Dr. Liu noted the increasing population of older adults with dementia worldwide, a result of an aging population. More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult with dementia. The negative effects of the caregiving role are both physical and mental, due to the material demands of caregiving as well as the emotional stress of caring for a loved one who is experiencing cognitive decline.

Caregivers who are Chinese may experience unique challenges due to cultural beliefs about dementia, including the belief that dementia is a universal part of aging or that people develop dementia due to prior unhealthy or bad behavior—leading to stigmatization. Additionally, in many Asian cultures, including in China, there is a high degree of emphasis placed on the duty of children to care for their aging parents, leading to high levels of self-expectation and potential feelings of shame for failing to meet those expectations.

Dr. Liu organized a study to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a peer mentoring program for Chinese caregivers. The program sought to address cultural beliefs and knowledge about dementia among Chinese caregivers, create effective coping strategies that are culturally appropriate, and reduce loneliness. The ultimate object of investigation of the study was the effect of the mentoring program on the participants’ mental health.

For the study, eight mentors were recruited based on their ethnic cultural and caregiving experience and provided training. Thirty-eight family caregivers were recruited for the study; half were provided with peer mentoring, while the other half, the control group, only received educational materials. Assessments of the caregivers’ loneliness, self-reported caregiving burden, and levels of depression were conducted prior to the program, directly after the program was completed, and six months after the program ended.

Caregivers who were part of the mentoring program reported being less lonely than the control group in the post-study assessment, but that benefit dissipated after six months. For caregiving burden and depressive symptoms, the group that received the mentoring intervention reported substantial benefits six months after the end of the program, suggesting promise for peer mentoring as a way to provide support and relief for dementia caregivers.

The mentors themselves also reported benefits from participating in the study, particularly an increased sense of self-efficacy and empowerment. After the conclusion of the study, the mentors self-organized their own volunteer mentoring group.

When asked about other resources for participants to continue learning about this topic, Dr.Liu recommended a volume titled The 36 Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss, by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins.

The Aging and Equity series will return in 2023.

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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