Online support for family caregivers improves stress, burden

Internet-based interventions designed to support family caregivers of patients with dementia improved stress and anxiety, according to a study published June 12 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Caring for someone with dementia is one of the most challenging tasks for family members and the support offered to caregivers is often lacking. As the population continues to age, the growing demand for health and service care workers falls behind the supply. In this study, researchers from the University College London in the UK evaluated the feasibility of using internet-based support interventions for caregivers.

“Caring for someone with dementia can have a significant impact on the well-being of the caregiver. It is perceived as one of the most stressful and difficult forms of caring, as caregivers can face many years of managing difficult symptoms and making complex decisions,” wrote first author Jenny Hopwood, MB, BChir, and colleagues. “Studies report higher levels of depression, emotional distress, and physical strain in caregivers of people with dementia than in caregivers for older adults with physical impairment.”

Researchers collected 2,325 studies, 40 of which were included in the analysis, from various online databases. The authors reviewed the articles to identify the key components of internet-based interventions in supporting caregivers, developing an insight into what aspects of online support are most valued and effective.

The interventions focused on contact with health or social care providers, peer interaction, provision of information, decision support and psychological support. Findings from them included:

  • While overall quality of the studies were low, many suggested benefits to online interventions in terms of relieving stress, anxiety and burden.
  • Personalized online information was most beneficial when used as part of a multicomponent intervention.
  • Online peer support was appreciated by most participants and showed positive effects on stress.
  • Online contact with professionals led to a decrease in stress and burden in caregivers, who valued easy access to personalized practical advice and emotional support.

“Although mixed, the results indicate a positive response for the use of internet-based interventions by caregivers,” concluded Hopwood and colleagues. “More high-quality studies are required to identify the effectiveness of internet interventions aimed at supporting family caregivers, with particular focus on meeting the needs of caregivers during the different stages of dementia.”