Background: Family caregivers of dementia patients are at increased risk of developing depression or anxiety. A multi-component program designed to mobilize support of family networks demonstrated effectiveness in decreasing depressive symptoms in caregivers. However, the impact of an intervention consisting solely of family meetings on depression and anxiety has not yet been evaluated. This study examines the preventive effects of family meetings for primary caregivers of community-dwelling dementia patients.
Methods: A randomized multicenter trial was conducted among 192 primary caregivers of community dwelling dementia patients. Caregivers did not meet the diagnostic criteria for depressive or anxiety disorder at baseline. Participants were randomized to the family meetings intervention (n = 96) or usual care (n = 96) condition. The intervention consisted of two individual sessions and four family meetings which occurred once every 2 to 3 months for a year. Outcome measures after 12 months were the incidence of a clinical depressive or anxiety disorder and change in depressive and anxiety symptoms (primary outcomes), caregiver burden and quality of life (secondary outcomes). Intention-to-treat as well as per protocol analyses were performed.
Results: A substantial number of caregivers (72/192) developed a depressive or anxiety disorder within 12 months. The intervention was not superior to usual care either in reducing the risk of disorder onset (adjusted IRR 0.98; 95% CI 0.69 to 1.38) or in reducing depressive (randomization-by-time interaction coefficient = -1.40; 95% CI -3.91 to 1.10) or anxiety symptoms (randomization-by-time interaction coefficient = -0.55; 95% CI -1.59 to 0.49). The intervention did not reduce caregiver burden or their health related quality of life.
Conclusion: This study did not demonstrate preventive effects of family meetings on the mental health of family caregivers. Further research should determine whether this intervention might be more beneficial if provided in a more concentrated dose, when applied for therapeutic purposes or targeted towards subgroups of caregivers.
Trial registration: Controlled-Trials.com ISRCTN90163486.