Changes in social support and their impact on psychosocial outcome over a 5-year period for African American and White dementia caregivers

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2008 Aug;23(8):857-62. doi: 10.1002/gps.1996.


Background: African Americans have been found to be more resilient to the caregiving role than Whites. Amount of social support and satisfaction with social support were studied as possible explanations for these racial differences.

Methods: Family caregivers of patients diagnosed as having dementia participated in a longitudinal study. There were 166 caregiver-patient dyads enrolled and annual follow-up assessments were completed. Linear random effects regression models examined the longitudinal trajectories of social support, depressive symptoms, and life satisfaction over 5 years of community follow-up. Social support was also included as a time-dependent predictor of depressive symptoms and life satisfaction.

Results: The number of helpful support persons available decreased significantly for both racial groups. African American caregivers reported more satisfaction with their social support networks than Whites. They also reported fewer depressive symptoms and higher levels of life satisfaction when compared to their White counterparts. Higher levels of satisfaction with social support were associated with fewer depressive symptoms and increased levels of life satisfaction and explained a portion of the racial differences on these measures of psychosocial outcome.

Conclusions: The resilience of African American caregivers, as displayed by their fewer depressive symptoms and higher levels of life satisfaction, was partially explained by their higher levels of satisfaction with social support. Results suggest that health care providers should view low levels of social support as a possible precursor to poor psychological outcomes in caregivers. Future research should focus on social support and cultural variables that might explain racial differences in caregiver outcomes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / nursing
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Dementia / nursing
  • Depressive Disorder
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Regression Analysis
  • Social Support*
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • United States
  • White People / psychology*