BACKGROUND: The challenges presented by the increasing public health and social impact of caring for people with dementia have become clear in recent years. Previous research has identified that, while there are positive as well as negative elements to the caring role, carers are at high risk of mental health problems and that the comprehensive burden of caring has social, economic and health based elements. Co-resident carers, especially spouses, are of primary importance in maintaining people with dementia in their own homes in the community rather than in institutional settings which may be both more costly and have greater environmental poverty. There have, however, been few studies which have sought to investigate factors associated with carer burden and differences and similarities between countries. In this study we aimed to produce a cross-national profile of co-resident spouse carers across the European Community, with particular attention to: living arrangements; formal and informal support; service satisfaction; perceived burden; and psychological well-being.
METHOD: Twenty co-resident spouse carers of people with NINCDS-ADRDA probable dementia, who had been diagnosed as such within the past 12-36 months, were recruited from service contacts in each of 14 out of the 15 countries of the EU. All completed a semi-structured interview which included: sociodemographic data; data on health and social service use; the Carer Burden Inventory (CBI); the General Health Questionnaire-12 (GHQ-12); and open-ended qualitative questions about the experience of caring.
RESULTS: Two hundred and eighty couples were recruited. There was marked variation in all variables of interest between countries, but there were consistently high ratings of carer burden (mean CBI scores between 28 and 52) and psychological distress (between 40% and 75% scoring 4 or more on the GHQ-12). Using multivariate analyses (generalized linear modelling) to estimate the individual associations of variables of interest with carer burden, controlling for the effects of all other variables in the model, the following results were obtained: 11.4% (p = 0.003) of the variance was accounted for by between-country variation; 4.9% (p < 0.001) by expressed financial dissatisfaction; 4.5% (p = 0.001) by lower carer age; 3.2% (p = 0.004) by difficulties with spouse behavioural deficits; and 2.0% (p = 0.024) by perceived negative social reactions. There was a low level of contact with support groups and Alzheimer's disease societies despite the samples having been of service contacts.
CONCLUSIONS: This study confirms the high level of burden and mental distress in spouse carers for people with Alzheimer’s disease in the European Community. It suggests that there are elements of burden which may vary by country but also elements which have a common effect in all. These data suggest avenues for the primary and secondary prevention of burden by addressing clinical issues (e.g. behavioural disturbance); public attitudes and education (e.g. negative social reactions); economic support for carers (e.g. financial dissatisfaction); and higher risk groups (e.g. younger spouse carers).
Source: Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 1999 Aug;14(8):651-61
PMID: 10489656, UI: 99419502
(Centre for Applied Social Studies, University of Durham, UK)