Caring for a Spouse With Dementia Increases Risk of Depressive Symptoms


The symptoms of depression in caregivers of patients with dementia exacerbates over time.

Caring for a partner or spouse with a new dementia diagnosis is associated with a 30% increase in depressive symptoms compared with older adults who don’t have a spouse or partner with dementia, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Previous research suggests that depression can spike after a traumatic event, such as a cancer diagnosis, accident, or death. Most people return to their previous emotional health over time; however, the new research suggests that this does not happen with dementia caregivers.

Investigators looked at data from the Health and Retirement Study on 16,650 older adults, some of whom who had a partner diagnosed with dementia to compare them with those who did not.

The average number of depressive symptoms reported by older adults with partners without dementia was 1.2, whereas those who have a partner living with dementia experienced a 27% increase in symptoms. According to the study, those with a partner diagnosed more than 2 years ago experienced an additional 33% increase.

Investigators adjusted for health, health behavior differences between partners, and sociodemographic factors. The study also found that changes in depressive symptoms was associated with a 30% increased risk of fall.

"Whether it's carers protecting family members from injury, as we found in prior work, or a spouse's dementia status affecting the carer, as we found in this study, we have seen that family members deeply affect each other's health, so clinical and supportive care must orient more around the needs of the family," said Geoffrey Hoffman, PhD, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, in a press release.

Partners are often caregivers for spouses with dementia, which makes sustained understanding of depression over time especially important, according to the study.


Depression worsens over time for older caregivers of newly diagnosed dementia patients [News Release] Ann Arbor, MI; September 2, 2020. Accessed January 11, 2021.

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