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Depression is common among people who are primary caregivers for patients with dementia

Family caregivers of patients with dementia are more likely to suffer from depression if care takes up more than 40 hours a week, if the patient is angry or aggressive, or if the caretaker has limited functioning, according to a study supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (K02 HS00006). To determine the patient and caregiver characteristics associated with depression among caregivers of patients with dementia, Kenneth Covinsky, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of California, San Francisco, and his colleagues examined data on 5,627 patients with moderate to advanced dementia and their informal (unpaid) primary caregivers.

The researchers used a scale to measure caregiver depression, and they examined hours spent providing care, caregiver functional status, relation to the patient, and demographics. They also examined patient sociodemographic characteristics, activities of daily living (ADL) function (for example, eating, dressing, walking, or transferring from bed to chair), Mini-Mental Status Exam score, and behavioral problems.

Nearly one-third of caregivers (32 percent) reported six or more symptoms of depression and were classified as depressed. Whites and Hispanics were more likely than blacks to become depressed. Individuals caring for patients who were dependent for help with two or more ADLS or patients who were angry or aggressive were 55 percent and 47 percent, respectively, more likely to become depressed than caretakers whose patients didn't have these problems. Finally, caregivers who spent 40-79 hours a week caring for the patient or who themselves had some ADL dependencies were about twice as likely to become depressed as those who spent less than 40 hours per week providing care and did not have any ADL dependencies.

See "Patient and caregiver characteristics associated with depression in caregivers of patients with dementia," by Dr. Covinsky, Robert Newcomer, Ph.D., Patrick Fox, Ph.D., and others, in the December 2003 Journal of General Internal Medicine 18, pp. 1006-1014.

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