Even mild depression puts a burden on Alzheimer's family caregivers

Caregiving for an Alzheimer's patient is especially burdensome for spousal and family caregivers who at the time of their near and dear one's Alzheimer's diagnosis suffer from depressive symptoms, according to a recent University of Eastern Finland study.

The study analysed the psychological stress of family caregivers during a three-year period following the Alzheimer's diagnosis. The study constitutes part of the ALSOVA project involving 236 persons diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and their family caregivers. The study participants were voluntarily recruited from the memory disorder clinics of three Finnish central and university hospitals. The patients participating in the study were at the onset diagnosed with a very mild or mild form of Alzheimer's disease.

The results indicate that the heaviest psychological stress was experienced by family caregivers who at the time of diagnosis suffered from depressive symptoms. "The occurrence of even mild depressive symptoms predicted a psychological load on the family caregiver irrespective of, for example, the progression of the disease," says Researcher Tarja Välimäki of the Department of Nursing Science.

The study also found that the psychological stress of spousal caregivers was greater already at the onset of the study than that of other family caregivers, and that the psychological stress of spousal caregivers also increased during the follow-up.

According to the study researchers, the results suggest that it is wise to pay attention also to the family caregiver's health at the time of the Alzheimer's diagnosis. "A depression inquiry carried out by, for example, a memory nurse would make it possible to recognise family caregivers who need enhanced support."

The results were published in Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology.

The ALSOVA project is a multidisciplinary research project ongoing at the University of Eastern Finland and involving researchers from the fields of neurology, nursing science, health economics and psychology.

For further information, please contact:

Researcher Tarja Välimäki, University of Eastern Finland, Department of Nursing Science, tel. +358403552267, tarja.valimaki (at) uef.fi

Original article:

Välimäki TH, Martikainen JA, Hallikainen IT, Väätäinen ST, Koivisto AM. Depressed Spousal Caregivers Have Psychological Stress Unrelated to the Progression of Alzheimer Disease: A 3-Year Follow-Up Report, Kuopio ALSOVA Study. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology. 2015 Aug 6. pii: 0891988715598229. Epub ahead of print.

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The University of Eastern Finland, UEF, is one of the largest universities in Finland. The activities of the UEF underscore multidisciplinarity, and the university is especially strong in research related to forests and the environment, health and well-being, and new technologies and materials. The UEF offers teaching in more than 100 major subjects. In addition to the high standard of teaching, the university offers its students a modern study environment, which is under constant development. The university comprises four faculties: the Philosophical Faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The university’s campuses are located in the heart of beautiful eastern Finland in Joensuu, Kuopio and Savonlinna. The UEF is home to approximately 15 000 students and nearly 2 800 members of staff.

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