BACKGROUND: In 1998, a research study was conducted to compare existing programs in the European Union providing both care to people with senile dementia of the Alzheimer type, and support to their informal caregiver. METHOD: Five programs were selected in seven centres. Home social services (Denmark), Day centres (Germany), Expert Centres (Belgium, Spain), Group Living/Cantou (Sweden, France), Respite hospitalization (France). In each centre, 50 patients were randomly selected. The questionnaire addressed informal caregivers (or referents).