Objective: To gain insight into caregivers' understanding of the causes of behaviours they find problematic in people with Alzheimer's disease in order to inform the development of educational strategies.
Methods: A qualitative, semi-structured interview was used. Participants were 205 caregivers for a person with Alzheimer's disease, all of whom were aware of the diagnosis and who had been recruited as part of a larger longitudinal study. Participants were from inner-city and suburban London/semi-rural Essex. The main outcome measures were caregivers' understanding of: the cause of problematic behaviour; the ability of the person with dementia to control this behaviour; the prognosis of the illness.
Results: Most carers attribute the cognitive, behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia to causes other than dementia; many believe that the person with dementia has control over their behaviour and substantial numbers believe the person with dementia will return to normal.
Conclusions: This study suggests that providing facts about the illness to caregivers is not enough, as caregivers may not understand that the symptoms they observe are related to the diagnosis. Education by clinicians should focus on the understanding of caregivers and in particular explore the caregivers' attributions of the symptoms which are present in the person for whom they care. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.