Aims and objectives: To characterise the main difficulties, coping strategies, sources of satisfaction and levels of burden disclosed by informal caregivers of older people who are dependent due to physical and mental causes, in the Portuguese context and to compare the impact between caregivers for older people with physical dependence and caregivers for older people with mental dependence.
Background: Caring for a dependent older person is a complex process that puts two people in interaction, each with their own traits and their own histories of private life. When performing this role, the care provider needs to know how to deal with difficulties through a range of coping strategies. The outcome of this relationship may result in burden as a result of the volume of care, the complexity of care or the caregiver's inability to provide needed care. Caring for a family member can also be a source of satisfaction thanks to the pleasure of giving back and/or providing well-being.
Design: This is a quantitative, analytical and correlational study.
Methods: This study was conducted among two distinct groups–caregivers of older people without dementia (physical impairment) and caregivers of patients with dementia (impairment of a predominantly cognitive nature). Data were collected by administering a previously defined questionnaire that sought to gather various sorts of information (sociodemographic, clinical and environmental) and that included certain specific instruments, such as dependency ratio, cognitive assessment tests, an index of difficulties, a satisfaction index, an index of coping strategies and a burden scale.
Results: The sample consisted in 184 caregivers over 40 years of age, of which, 101 cared for dependent people without cognitive impairment and 83 cared for people with dementia. Most caregivers were women (87%), most were married (78·8%), with a low level of education (33·7% did not complete primary school and only 7·1% had any postsecondary education). Most were spouses or daughters (75·5%). The caregivers of older patients with dementia had lower levels of satisfaction, with a mean difference of 12·95 percentage points, p < 0·001. It appears that caring for older people with dementia implies a greater burden, with a mean difference of 15·4 percentage points, p < 0·001. There is a strong correlation between difficulties and burden (r = 0·89, p < 0·001) and between the effectiveness of coping strategies and satisfaction (r = 0·92, p < 0·001).
Conclusions: This study suggests that caregivers of older people with dementia are more vulnerable due to their higher levels of burden, which are associated with higher levels of difficulties and reduced sources of satisfaction.
Relevance to clinical practice: These data are essential for the management and implementation of health programmes that can reduce the vulnerability of caregivers. Programmes should address caregivers' difficulties and burden as a way to promote satisfaction with providing care.