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Dementia carers carry heavy health burden, study finds

18 September, 2013

Carers taking primary responsibility for people with dementia are more likely to suffer symptoms of ill health than the general population, a Curtin University study has found.

The feasibility study involving carers of people with cognitive impairment revealed caregivers were more prone to suffering from a range of health issues, particularly insomnia, fatigue and pain.

The study also found a gap between reported health issues experienced by carers and their own perception of their wellbeing.

"Of the carers who completed an end-of-study questionnaire, half exhibited a moderate-to-severe health-related burden or a severe burden as a result of their caring responsibilities," Associate Professor Barbara Horner, the study's lead author, said.

"The issues reported included fatigue, sleeplessness and pain as the most common ailments, but also nausea, shortness of breath, appetite loss and financial problems.

"Given the fact that more than 250,000 Australians currently live with dementia and the figure is estimated to double by 2030, it's a concern that carers showed lower overall health status than the general population, and this puts them at risk of dying early."

Carers involved in the study were encouraged to visit their doctor within four weeks of completing the questionnaire.

As part of the research, the doctors were provided with a GP toolkit designed to reflect the specific needs of carers for people with dementia — including a list of support services and resources and guidelines for discussing end-of-life issues.

"Results from the research show that carers of people with cognitive impairment have unmet health needs and may not seek, or delay seeking, appropriate healthcare," Associate Professor Horner said.

"It was also noted that carers were unwilling to discuss their needs with a GP when the reason for the visit was primarily to address the needs of the person they cared for."

The researchers will now commence a further study that seeks to better understand the experience of caring with an aim to provide better education, support and primary care for someone who is in this critical role.

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