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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 12, 2008

Family caregiver writing study invites participants

For families who provide care to a loved one with cancer, stress and isolation can be a burden that's hard to carry. A University of Iowa College of Nursing researcher is conducting a study to see if adults, age 55 and older, can use writing about their thoughts and feelings about care giving as a strategy to help manage stress.

Family members who provide care for cancer patients will be asked to write about their experiences related to their care-giving role for 20 minutes every other day on six occasions. Participants in the study may write in their homes or a place and time 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.

Howard Butcher, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing and principal investigator of the study, funded by the UI Cancer and Aging Program, 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 cancer.

Written expression or journaling 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 has shown that this type of writing promotes psychological and physiological health benefits that can last as long as six months.

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.

A previous study completed by Butcher with caregivers for family member with Alzheimer's disease found that writing significantly reduced levels of cortisol, sometimes referred to as a stress hormone.

The current UI study will involve visiting participants in their homes or a location of their choice, and is limited to those in eastern Iowa. For more information, or learn how you may participate in the study, contact Butcher at 319-335-7039 or

NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: A news release about this study was issued on May 29, 2008. However, researchers are continuing to invite qualified individuals to participate.

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Nursing, 101 Nursing Building, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

MEDIA CONTACT: Michele Francis, 319-335-8960,