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Caregivers Cope After Patients Die

Study Shows Caregivers 'Recover' After Death of Family Member With Dementia

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 5, 2006 -- Caring for a loved one with dementiadementia may become increasingly difficult as death nears, but a new study shows caregivers make a "remarkable recovery" after a family member's death.

Researchers say little is known about the end-of-life experience of family members who care for a loved one with dementia at home. But the study suggests that although caregiver depressiondepression may rise as the patient nears death, most caregivers return to normal functioning within six months after their loved one's death.

Results of the study were presented this week at the American Geriatrics Society Annual Scientific Meeting in Chicago.

End-of-Life Care

Researchers studied 1,222 dementia caregivers and their patients over 18 months. During the study, 217 of the dementia patients died.

In looking at the dementia patients' status before death, the study showed:

  • Virtually none of the dementia patients were enrolled in hospice programs before death.
  • There was little change in patients' disruptive behaviors, memory problems, or depression in the year before death.
  • Functional status of dementia patients may decline in the year before death.
  • Slightly more than half of caregivers report that their loved one was in pain "often or all of the time" before death, based on reports given after the patient's death.

In comparing caregiver well-being before and after the death of their loved one, researchers found:

  • Level of caregiver depression increases slightly as the dementia patient approaches death.
  • Caregivers provide high levels of care and report using high levels of support services before the death of their loved one.
  • After the death of their loved one, most caregivers show remarkable recovery and return to near normal levels of functioning and depression symptoms within six months after death.

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