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Support groups may improve depression, quality of life and self-esteem for people with dementia

Leung P, Orrell M, Orgeta V. Social support group interventions in people with dementia and mild cognitive impairment: A systematic review of the literature. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2015; 30(1), 1-9.

Review question

Do social support groups help reduce depression and increase quality of life for people with dementia and mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?


Dementia and MCI can affect the social lives of people who have been diagnosed and make it harder for them to get the social support they need.  Many people with dementia or MCI feel alone, excluded and isolated. Support services for people with earlier stages of dementia are limited as most tend to focus on caregiver needs or on people in later stages of dementia. Though there have been a number of studies related to this topic, there has yet to be a systematic review of current evidence.

How the review was done

Only two randomized controlled trials met the inclusion criteria. The studies included a total of 166 participants with an average age of 76, all of whom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or MCI. Some participants were included in a social support group, which included education about causes and treatment for memory loss and cognitive impairment and mutual support for coping.  The control group received the usual treatment and (in one study) information on education programs. The two studies used different measures, including depression, self-esteem, cognition, physical function, quality of life, communication and self-efficacy among participants – after 20 weeks in the first study and 9 weeks in the second study – to see if social support groups have benefits for the people involved.

What the researchers found

Both studies found that social support groups may be helpful for those with early-stage dementia. The first study found that a combined exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy and social support program helped to boost participants’ self-esteem.  The second study found that social support groups improved depression and quality of life for participants.


Although this review was only of two studies, the results suggest that social support groups help to improve depression, quality of life and self-esteem for people with early-stage dementia. However, more randomized controlled trials are needed to learn more about the effects of social support for people with dementia or MCI.


Cognitive impairment
Trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect everyday life.
Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
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.

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