Pre-loss group therapy for dementia family care partners at risk for complicated grief

Alzheimers Dement (N Y). 2021 May 13;7(1):e12167. doi: 10.1002/trc2.12167. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: Dementia family caregiving may span more than a decade and places many family care partners (CPs) at risk for poor bereavement outcomes; estimates of complicated grief in bereaved dementia family CPs range from 10% to 20%. We adapted our efficacious complicated grief group therapy intervention for bereaved dementia caregivers for soon-to-be bereaved dementia CPs at risk for complicated grief to facilitate healthy death preparedness and eventual bereavement-pre-loss group therapy (PLGT).

Methods: In this Stage IB pilot intervention study, we implemented and evaluated PLGT in three psychotherapy group cohorts with family CPs at-risk for complicated grief whose person living with dementia (PLWD) had a life expectancy of 6 months or less and resided in a nursing home. PLGT is a 10-session multi-modal psychotherapy administered by social workers.

Results: Participants in PLGT realized significant improvement in their pre-loss grief and in reported preparedness for the death of their family member, and participants evidenced lowered pre-loss grief severity and improvement, as measured by facilitators. Participants also realized significant improvement in meaning making, particularly as a sense of peace and a reduction of loneliness.

Discussion: The process and treatment elements of the PLGT intervention affirm the value of specialized care for those dementia family CPs at risk for complicated grief, as the PLGT groups demonstrated a steady progression toward improvement collectively and individually. PLGT participants realized statistical and clinical improvement across pre-loss grief measures suggesting that their risk for complicated grief risk was mitigated, and they were better prepared for the death of their PLWD.

Keywords: complicated grief; dementia family care partner; group psychotherapy; nursing home.