Background: Self-management is important for family caregivers of people with dementia, especially when they face changes in their relative’s behavior and mood, such as depression, apathy, anxiety, agitation and aggression. The aim of this study is to give insight into why these changes in behavior and mood are stressful for family caregivers, what self-management strategies family caregivers use when managing these changes and the stress they experience.
Methods: A qualitative study was conducted using four online focus groups with 32 family caregivers of people with dementia living in the Netherlands. Transcripts of the focus group discussions were analyzed using principles of thematic analysis.
Results: Managing changes in the behavior and mood of their relative with dementia is stressful for family caregivers because of constantly having to switch, continuously having to keep the person with dementia occupied and distracted, the fact that others see a different side to the relative, and the fact that caregivers know what to do, but are often not able to put this into practice. Caregivers use calming down and stimulation as self-management strategies for influencing the changes in the behavior and mood of their relative. Furthermore, caregivers describe three self-management strategies that let them manage their own stress and keep up the care for their loved ones: looking for distractions, getting rest, and discussing their feelings and experiences.
Conclusions: Behavior and mood changes of a person with dementia are stressful for family caregivers. They use several self-management strategies to positively affect the mood and behavior changes, and also to manage their own stress.