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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?

Background

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.

Conclusion

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.




Glossary

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

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