OBJECTIVES: To compare the burden of supporting demented and non-demented mentally infirm elders in an English community; determine the prevalence of emotional distress in carers and to investigate the relationship between carer well being and duration of care giving.
DESIGN: Cross-sectional study of informal carers of the elderly referred to a psychogeriatric service, using a questionnaire investigating carer socio-demography, carer-dependant interpersonal relationship in relation to care giving and care-recipient dependency needs using a modified version of the CADI; and, the 28-item GHQ.
SETTING: Lancashire communities of Fleetwood, Thornton-Cleveleys, Poulton- Le-Fylde and Over-Wyre.
RESULTS: Ninety one (72%) carers of the elderly mentally infirm participated in the study. Carers (n = 48) of the demented experienced significantly more burden, including psychological and physical health problems than carers (n = 43) of the non-demented (P = 0.001). The prevalence of emotional distress in all carers was 42% (dementia supporters = 56%, non-dementia supporters = 26%). Emotional distress in supporters was directly related to the degree of difficulties (particularly lack of private time, loss of control in caregiving tasks, patient behavioural problems) experienced in care giving, and, the degree of patient dependency needs. Carer/patient interpersonal relationship tended to worsen as care giving progressed; however, no significant association was established between duration of care and emotional distress in carers. Out of 51 carers receiving respite admission services, six (12%) considered such admissions as additional burden.
CONCLUSIONS: Carer burden, including psychological and physical health concerns, was comparatively greater in carers of the demented than in carers of the non-demented. Respite care services although beneficial to most care givers, may constitute further burden to some. Factors accounting for these observations are explained. To ameliorate carer burden, measures enabling greateravailability of private time, and, improving care giving skills, should be encouraged.