It probably isn’t news to the many people who are taking responsibility on a day-to-day basis for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. In fact there are enough online and real-world support groups out there to indicate that people who are carers for a loved one need help too. Whether every caregiver knows about or is able to access a support group is another matter of course, so the results of this research, published in the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology, may help to put it on the geriatrician’s agenda, when they are developing care plans for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Burden of care
The study, led by Dr Valmaki et al at the University of Easter Finland, is part of the ALSOVA project at the university. It found that, if caregivers are experiencing or showing signs of depression (indicated through the use of a questionnaire) at the time that their loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the psychological burden of caregiving is likely to be much greater.
The study also found that spousal caregivers were more likely to experience stress in their role compared with other family caregivers, and their level of stress is likely to increase over time and as the disease progresses.
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis has as profound an effect on the caregiver’s ability to cope, whether it is in the early stages of the disease or a more advanced stage, if signs of depression in the caregiver is present.
Support for caregivers
This study is important in that it recommends a more holistic approach to treating Alzheimer’s. It is not simply a disease that affects the sufferer – it impacts whole families. By treating the family, with a particular focus on the mental health of the primary caregiver, outcomes for the sufferer are more likely to be enhanced.
This could be achieved easily, at the point of the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, by asking attendant caregivers to complete a brief questionnaire to identify their needs. Where signs of depression are indicated, referral for further support – counselling, respite care, or simply the contact details of a support group – may help to alleviate their struggle.