Staff burnout in dementia care--relations to empathy and attitudes

Int J Nurs Stud. 1991;28(1):65-75. doi: 10.1016/0020-7489(91)90051-4.


Sixty nursing staff in geriatric and psychogeriatric care (RNs, LPNs and nurse's aides) were selected to be studied on two occasions with an interval of one year regarding the relationships between their experience of burnout, empathy and attitudes towards demented patients. A semistructured interview was performed on the second occasion to learn more about their work experience and to relate the ratings of burnout, empathy and attitudes to their experience at work. The staff's experience of burnout changed from a mean score of 2.7 in 1987 to 2.5 in 1988. Their empathic ability was moderately high and increased from 398 (m) in (1987) to 450 (m) in 1988. The attitudes of staff remained unchanged from 1987 to 1988 and no differences were found regarding the staff's age, place of work or time at present place of work. As for the staff's empathy, there was no difference with respect to sex, category of staff or place of work. RN's showed the most positive attitudes towards demented patients both in 1987 and 1988 and differed compared to the nurse's aides and LPN's. Burnout correlated with lower empathy and less positive attitudes in the staff. Regression analysis showed that 'experience of feed-back at work' and 'time spent at present place of work' were the most important factors when explaining burnout among the staff. Staff with high empathy experienced "a close contact with the patient" as the most stimulating factor at work while staff with low empathy experienced "improvement of the patient's health" and "contact with colleagues" as the most stimulating factors. The importance of counteracting burnout in the care of demented patients is stressed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Burnout, Professional*
  • Dementia / nursing*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Nursing*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires