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Caring for a relative with dementia can make you depressed

A new study shows the benefit of learning coping strategies.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

A NEW STUDY has shown how getting help to deal with the mental strain associated with caring for a relative with dementia can stop a carer developing depression.

The Lancet medical journal published the research in the context of an estimated tripling of the instances of dementia over the course of the next thirty-five years.

It pointed out that the majority of patients with dementia are cared for at home by relatives, with an estimated 40% of those carers developing clinically significant depression or anxiety.

This is in turn can lead to the care breaking down and the patient being moved to a home.

The research demonstrates that this can be avoided by the relative learning some brief coping strategies. The strategies can help provides stress relief and emotional support and reduce the instances of depression and anxiety among carers.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) found that carers were seven times less likely to develop clinically significant depression if they studied some coping strategies.

The particular programme used during the trial was the START (STrAtegies for RelaTives) programme with researchers finding that the benefits can last for up to two years.

The programme is designed so that the carers are provided with support in tandem with the patient receiving treatment.

The programme consists of education about dementia and a carers’ stress levels as well as teaching about the behaviour of the family member being cared for.

The trial studied 260 family carers who were free from depression and observed how they coped with their relatives condition over the course of two years.

The study found both short and long-term benefits to carers who availed of the START programme.

“Too often people forget the substantial effect dementia has on family members caring for relatives with dementia,” says Prof. Gill Livingston of UCL.

“Policy frameworks assume that families will remain the main providers of their (unpaid) support. This new cost-neutral programme is an effective way to support carers and improve their mental health and quality of life and should be made widely available.”

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland provides a range of specialist services throughout Ireland. 

First published 7am

Read: Volunteers sought for study on stress levels among dementia caregivers >

Opinion: Dealing with dementia – why we are failing our parents and ultimately ourselves >

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Rónán Duffy

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