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Posted: August 26, 2008

Study: Quarter of Dementia Spousal Caregivers Depressed, Lonely

The emotional toll caregiving for a spouse with dementia takes is enormous, resulting in widespread depression, loneliness and sadness, according to a new study. 

In fact, the study conducted by Case Western Reserve University researchers found that a quarter of all spouses caring for a husband or wife with dementia were depressed, compared to just 5% among non-caregivers in the study.


As a result, the research team called for additional support and additional strategies to assist caregivers in coping with the demands of this difficult time.


"Caregivers have a long exposure to stresses and losses from the dementia and fatigue that come from caring for their spouses, so they experience fewer positive emotions," said researcher Kathryn Betts Adams, an assistant professor of social work at Case Western. "Some may have feelings of guilt about participating in activities with friends or in the community when their loved ones are no longer able to do so."


Adams added that caregivers also broadly report sadness and loneliness.


While prior studies have shown that caregiving can be a factor in diagnosing depression, Adams analyzed data from spouse caregivers and compared their responses to non-caregivers at the symptom level to determine which symptoms were especially common.


A total of 391 spousal caregivers and 226 non-caregivers from the Case Western Reserve University/University Hospitals Alzheimer's Disease Research Center were involved in the research study.


After factoring out age, gender, education and income levels and race, some 25% of caregivers suffered from depression in contrast to only 5% of non-caregivers studied, said Adams. The caregivers were most notably different from the non-caregivers in their lack of positive emotions such as happiness or hopefulness.


The study's participants lived with their spouses. Of the spouses with dementia, approximately half had mild dementia, with 37% in stages of moderate to severe dementia. Only 23% of those questioned did not feel burdened by the responsibilities of caring for their spouses, but the remaining spouses reported feeling mildly to severely burdened.


Adams suggested that caregivers would benefit from support groups that "normalize" the emotions that surface while watching the dementia of their loved ones worsen. They can also be taught caregiving and decision-making skills and be given "permission" to increase pleasurable activities and engage in self-care.


The study is published in the Journal of International Psychogeriatrics.

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