Alzheimer's disease (AD) imposes a severe burden upon patients and their carers. In particular, family carers of AD patients face extreme hardship and distress that represents a major but often hidden burden on healthcare systems. Carers often experience clinically significant alterations in physical and mental health, particularly depression. A number of individual features of the dementia syndrome that are known to be particularly burdensome to carers include the degree of cognitive impairment, amount of help required with activities of daily living, personality changes and the presence of psychiatric symptoms and behavioural disturbances. The neuropsychiatric features of AD patients can adversely impact the relationship between the patient and caregiver generating feelings of strain, burden and social isolation. Individual characteristics of the caregiver including personality, gender, degree of formal and informal support and physical and mental health, as well as attributional style (‘coping style’) and expressed emotion (critical or hostile attitudes), also dictate carer burden. As informal caregivers play such a crucial role in the care of AD patients, appropriate management strategies that incorporate interventions which address the specific burdens of the individual caregiver are essential. Reducing the burden of care can be achieved by the combination of a number of individual and general measures, including education, respite and emotion-focused interventions. These measures, accompanied by non-pharmacological strategies, are extremely important in the total care of the AD patient, with the emphasis on maintaining people in the community as long as possible.
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