Importance: Caregiver burden may result from providing care for patients with chronic illness. It can occur in any of the 43.5 million individuals providing support to midlife and older adults. Caregiver burden is frequently overlooked by clinicians.
Objectives: To outline the epidemiology of caregiver burden; to provide strategies to diagnose, assess, and intervene for caregiver burden in clinical practice; and to evaluate evidence on interventions intended to avert or mitigate caregiver burden and related caregiver distress.
Evidence: Cohort studies examining the relation between demographic and social risk factors and adverse outcomes of caregiver burden were reviewed. Review of recent meta-analyses to summarize the effectiveness of caregiver burden interventions were identified by searching Ovid MEDLINE, AgeLine, and the Cochrane Library.
Results: Risk factors for caregiver burden include female sex, low educational attainment, residence with the care recipient, higher number of hours spent caregiving, depression, social isolation, financial stress, and lack of choice in being a caregiver. Practical assessment strategies for caregiver burden exist to evaluate caregivers, their care recipients, and the care recipient's overall caregiving needs. A variety of psychosocial and pharmacological interventions have shown mild to modest efficacy in mitigating caregiver burden and associated manifestations of caregiver distress in high-quality meta-analyses. Psychosocial interventions include support groups or psychoeducational interventions for caregivers of dementia patients (effect size, 0.09-0.23). Pharmacologic interventions include use of anticholinergics or antipsychotic medications for dementia or dementia-related behaviors in the care recipient (effect size, 0.18-0.27). Many studies showed improvements in caregiver burden-associated symptoms (eg, mood, coping, self-efficacy) even when caregiver burden itself was minimally improved.
Conclusions and relevance: Physicians have a responsibility to recognize caregiver burden. Caregiver assessment and intervention should be tailored to the individual circumstances and contexts in which caregiver burden occurs.