Background: This paper describes both the use of and needs for informal caregivers of people with dementia, based on a questionnaire survey organized within the National Dementia Programme in the Netherlands. The National Dementia Programme is a quality collaborative of the Dutch Alzheimer's Association, the Institute of Quality of Healthcare (CBO) and the Knowledge Centre on Ageing (Vilans), instigated by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, to improve integrated care for people with dementia and their informal caregivers. The support needs of informal caregivers are important to improve caregiver well-being and delaying institutionalization of the person with dementia.
Methods: In the period April 2006 - January 2007, the National Dementia Programme questionnaire was completed by 984 informal caregivers. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the use of and needs for additional professional support by informal caregivers. Chi-square tests were used to assess the relationships between characteristics of the caregivers (spouses, sons/daughters, sons/daughters in-law) and support needs on one hand and to assess the relationship between the living situation of the person with dementia (living at home or living in a nursing home or home for the elderly) and support needs on the other hand.
Results: Almost all informal caregivers (92.6%) received some professional support. However, two thirds (67.4%) indicated they had one or more needs for additional professional support. Informal caregivers often need additional professional advice about what to do when their relative is frightened, angry of confused. Spouses reported different needs than sons or daughters (in-law): spouses relatively often need emotional support and sons or daughters (in-law) more often need information and coordination of dementia care.
Conclusions: Most of the informal caregivers report that they need additional information and advice, e.g. about how to cope with behavioral problems of their relative, about the progression of the illness trajectory, emotional support and coordination of dementia care. Future support programmes, e.g. in the field of case management, should address the specific needs of informal caregivers.