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Peer support programs may be a promising way to support caregivers of people with dementia

Smith R, Greenwood N  The impact of volunteer mentoring schemes on carers of people with dementia and volunteer mentors: A systematic review  Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen. 2014; 29(1):8-17

Review question

Does volunteer mentoring help caregivers of people with dementia, and which approaches are best?


The number of people living with dementia is increasing worldwide as is the number of people who care for them, often spouses, family members, and other community members. Providing support for people with dementia can be very stressful and it is common for caregivers to feel lonely and isolated.  There is some evidence that one-to-one befriending or peer support by someone with similar caregiving experience can improve caregivers’ well-being and depression, but it is not clear which approaches help the most.

How the review was done

This systematic review included 4 studies measuring the benefits of one-to-one peer support and befriending for informal caregivers of people with dementia. Two of these studies were good-quality randomized controlled trials. A total of 350 caregivers were included in the studies, which measured the impacts of in-person and telephone support on caregivers’ mental health (including depression, anxiety and self-esteem), use of other social supports, satisfaction and continuation of the program.

What the researchers found

There was limited evidence to make a recommendation about volunteer mentoring support for informal caregivers of people with dementia and it was difficult to make comparisons between the studies included in this review.  Studies which measured participants’ mental health ‘scores’ (for example, depression, loneliness and self-esteem) did not show that the programs had much of an impact.  However, caregivers did report that they valued and were more likely to continue the relationship with peers who had a similar caregiving experience to their own.  In one study, telephone peer support increased caregivers’ coping skills, competence, confidence, and decreased their feelings of burden and loneliness.   Long-term befriending programs (at least 6 months in length) had small impacts on improving depression among caregivers.  Extensive ‘matching’ of peer mentors with caregivers was not essential to create successful volunteer mentoring relationships.


Studies do not show a strong impact of peer support programs on caregivers of people with dementia. However, caregivers do value having support from people with similar caregiving experience, and longer-term befriending programs may help relieve depression for caregivers.


Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

Related Web Resources

  • Dementia in home and community care

    Canadian Institute for Health Information
    Adults with dementia that live at home have complicated care needs. This resource provides information about caregiving for a person with dementia, and about how to transition into long-term care.
  • Safeguarding adults

    Know the signs of abuse: frequent arguments with a caregiver, changes in personality, unexplained injuries, bruising, unusual weight loss or unsafe living conditions. Ask doctors, social workers or community nurses for support if you or someone you know might be abused. Contact the police if someone you know is in physical danger.
  • Alzheimer's and memories: Use mementos as cues

    Mayo Clinic
    Help preserve memories for someone with Alzheimer’s. Create an electronic folder or special box with photos and letters. Talk together or with people who know her/him to hear and document meaningful stories.
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