Giving Compass' Take:

• Research reveals that there are higher percentages of depression among caregivers when caring for an individual with Alzheimer's or dementia. 

• How does COVID-19 impact the mental health of caregivers? 

• Read more about why it's essential to acknowledge the role of caregivers in healthcare.

Caring for a partner or spouse with a new diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or related dementia is associated with a 30% increase in depressive symptoms, research finds.

That’s compared to older adults who don’t have a spouse with dementia. And, the study finds, these symptoms are sustained over time.

This sustained depression over time is important because partners are often caregivers for many years, says Melissa Harris, a doctoral student in the University of Michigan School of Nursing and lead author of the study in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Research suggests that depression can spike after a traumatic event––cancer diagnosis, accident, death, etc.––but that most people often return to their previous emotional health. That didn’t happen with the dementia caregivers.

Harris and nursing professors Geoffrey Hoffman and Marita Titler analyzed Health and Retirement Study data from 16,650 older adults—those without a partner diagnosis of dementia, those with a partner whose diagnosis was within the past two years, and those with a partner whose diagnosis was older than two years.

The new study differs from previous studies in a couple of important ways, Harris says. She and her colleagues looked at depressive symptoms over time (rather than a snapshot in time) and at the number of reported depressive symptoms, as opposed to only diagnoses of major depression––a threshold that’s rarely met. Depression can range from severe and persistent to mild and temporary, but even the latter can significantly reduce quality of life.

The increase in symptoms is also important because previous research that Hoffman, assistant professor of nursing and senior author of the current study, conducted found that similar changes in depressive symptoms was associated with a 30% increase of fall risk.

The social isolation caused by the pandemic only adds to the caregiver’s burden.

Read the full article about caregiver depression by Liz Goodfellow at Futurity.