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How do elderly spouse care givers of people with Alzheimer disease experience the disclosure of dementia diagnosis and subsequent care?

Abstract

Objectives: To examine the experiences of spousal care givers of Alzheimer patients to disclosure of dementia diagnosis and subsequent care.

Methods: A random sample of 1943 spousal care givers of people receiving medication for Alzheimer disease (AD) was sent a cross-sectional postal survey about their opinions on the disclosure of dementia and follow-up care. A smaller qualitative study (n = 63) included open-ended questions concerning their experiences of the same topics.

Results: The response rate for the survey was 77%. Of the respondents, 1214 of 1434 acknowledged themselves as their spouse’s care giver. The mean age of the care givers was 78.2 years, and that of demented spouses, 80.5 years. Of the care givers, 63% were women. The couples had long-lasting marriages (mean 52 years). Of the care givers, 93% reported that dementia had been disclosed openly to their spouse; 97% also preferred that physicians openly inform the patients of the dementia diagnosis, although 55% of their spouses with AD had developed depressive symptoms after the disclosure. Of the care givers, 71% felt they had received sufficient information about dementia. However, only 50% estimated that their spouses’ follow-up care had been well organised. The responses in the qualitative study indicated that many care givers felt grief and anxiety. They also expressed feelings of loneliness and uncertainty about how to deal with follow-up care for dementia.

Conclusions: Elderly spousal care givers were quite satisfied with the information given them about dementia. However, the support with regard to the follow-up care of care-giving families failed to meet their needs adequately.

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