Objectives To analyse the experience of individual family carers of people with dementia who received a manual-based coping strategy programme (STrAtegies for RelaTives, START), demonstrated in a randomised-controlled trial to reduce affective symptoms.
Design A qualitative study using self-completed questionnaires exploring the experience of the START intervention. Two researchers transcribed, coded and analysed completed questionnaires thematically.
Setting Three mental health and one neurology dementia clinic in South East England.
Participants Participants were primary family carers of a patient diagnosed with dementia who provided support at least weekly to their relative. We invited those in the treatment group remaining in the START study at 2 years postrandomisation (n=132) to participate. 75 people, comprising a maximum variation sample, responded.
Primary and secondary outcome measures (1) Important aspects of the therapy. (2) Continued use of the intervention after the end of the therapy. (3) Unhelpful aspects of the therapy and suggestions for improvement. (4) Appropriate time for intervention delivery.
Results Carers identified several different components as important: relaxation techniques, education about dementia, strategies to help manage the behaviour of the person with dementia, contact with the therapist and changing unhelpful thoughts. Two-thirds of the participants reported that they continue to use the intervention's techniques at 2-year follow up. Few participants suggested changes to the intervention content, but some wanted more sessions and others wanted the involvement of more family members. Most were happy with receiving the intervention shortly after diagnosis, although some relatives of people with moderate dementia thought it should have been delivered at an earlier stage.
Conclusions Participants’ varied responses about which aspects of START were helpful suggest that a multicomponent intervention is suited to the differing circumstances of dementia carers, providing a range of potentially helpful strategies. The continued use of the strategies 2 years after receiving the intervention could be a mechanism for the intervention remaining effective.