The impact of early dementia diagnosis and intervention on informal caregivers

Prog Neurobiol. 2013 Nov:110:54-62. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2013.04.005. Epub 2013 May 17.


In the absence of disease modifying therapies for dementia, the question rises what the benefits are of an early dementia diagnosis for patients and their caregivers. This paper reviews the caregiver perspective in dementia and addresses the question what the consequences are of promoting earlier dementia diagnosis. An early diagnosis offers caregivers the opportunity to advance the process of adaptation to the caregiver role. Caregivers that are better able to adapt to the changes that characterize dementia, feel more competent to care and experience less psychological problems. However, drawbacks of an early diagnosis may outweigh the benefits if people are left with a diagnosis but little support. There is convincing evidence that multicomponent caregiver interventions in the mild to moderate dementia stages are effective to improve caregiver well-being and delay institutionalization. However, there still exist a gap between the improved possibilities to diagnose people in the predementia stage versus the scarce knowledge on intervention effects in this very early stage. This stresses the urgent need for more research on early caregiver interventions that enhance role adaptation and that include long-term follow-up and cost-effectiveness evaluation. Early interventions may help caregivers in anticipating and accepting the future care role and transitions, with the increased possibility that caregivers can still involve the patient in the decision making process. As levels of stress and burden are still low in the predementia stage it provides excellent opportunities to empower the resources of caregivers.

Keywords: AD; Alzheimer's disease; Dementia; Early diagnosis; FTD; Fronto-Temporal Dementia; Informal care; Interventions; MCI; Mild Cognitive Impairment; RCT; Role adaptation; randomized controlled trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Dementia / diagnosis*
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Early Diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology