Taken from the Daily Mail online
Four in ten dementia carers suffer depression: Experts say 'profound effect' condition has on family members is too often being forgotten
- Two-thirds of people with dementia live at home, equating to 670,000 carers in Britain
Many of those will be elderly and already struggling with health problems
Improving support should not only boost their mental health but also cut the odds of their relative being taken into a nursing home or hospital because they are unable to cope.
Rebecca Wood, the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research UK charity, said: ‘Dementia doesn’t only affect those who are diagnosed with the condition: its effects are felt far and wide, not least for individuals and families who are caring for their loved ones.’
The hidden toll of dementia was revealed by researchers from University College London who crunched together the results of studies from around the world.
This showed some 40 per cent of those who look after a family member with dementia to be clinically depressed or suffer from anxiety at any one time.
With two-thirds of people with dementia living at home and 670,000 carers in Britain, this equates to almost 270,000 men and women.
Many others are likely to have symptoms, although they won’t be severe enough for a clinical diagnosis.
Millions more are touched by dementia, without taking on care responsibilities.
In the UK, some 23 million people – roughly a third of the population – have a close friend or relative with dementia.
UCL researcher Professor Gill Livingston said the care of a relative with dementia can be particularly taxing because of the length of the illness and its nature.
Patients often don’t realise they are ill and so resist help. Paranoia can lead to the lashing out and agitation can prevent them and their family from sleeping.
Physical help with nursing and chores is available but, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to cut the carer’s odds of mental health problems.
And while carers are supposed to be able to see a clinical psychologist, there are not enough to go round – and until now there has not been a proper treatment programme.
However, an inexpensive and easy-to-teach course devised at UCL could hold the solution.
Professor Livingston and colleagues put 173 carers through the eight-hour course and compared their progress to another 90 or so who went about their lives as usual.
The course included advice on how to cope with their relative’s behaviour, how to talk to them and to doctors and how to make time for themselves.
This could be as simple as working out how to schedule in a peaceful cup of coffee each day.
Carers were encouraged to work out which parts of the START, or STrAtegies for RelaTives, programme worked for them and encouraged to continue practising them.
After two years, those who did the short course were seven times less likely to be depressed than the others, the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen heard.
Quality of life increased and the programme was cost-effective. This is because the money spent on it was cancelled out by lower care home and hospital costs for loved ones.
Dr Livingston now has money from the Alzheimer’s Society to train more programme leaders and hopes they will be put to work across Britain.
Using recent graduates as programme leaders will get round the shortage of specialist psychologists.
Dr Doug Brown, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘If results like these were found with a new drug, it would be hailed a breakthrough.
‘This programme gives us an effective way to support carers and reduce depression and anxiety, which will have the added benefit of improving life for those that they care for.
‘It is great to see research focusing on improving the well-being of dementia carers whilst other scientists search for treatments and a cure.
‘Too often people forget the profound effect dementia has on loved ones caring for someone with dementia and surrounding friends and family.’