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Reducing anxiety and depression among dementia caregivers

Caring for a family member with dementia requires outside support as well as inner strength. Prof Gill Livingston of UCL Brain Sciences developed START (Strategies for Relatives), a programme of therapy, to help carers manage their own stress and anxiety.

Reducing anxiety and depression among dementia caregivers

Looking after a family member with dementia can be tough. The physical and mental demands can lead to family caregivers becoming anxious and depressed. 

Professor Gill Livingston (UCL Brain Sciences) and her team developed the START (Strategies for Relatives) intervention programme to support caregivers in coping with the difficulties and looking after themselves as well as the person with dementia. 

In a trial with 260 family caregivers to detect the benefits of the programme they found that eight sessions of coping-based therapy can help reduce anxiety and depression.

Carers who took part in the programme were five times less likely to have clinically significant depression than caregivers who were not offered the therapy, and the effects were still as strong six years later. 

The START programme is delivered by psychology graduates, trained and supervised by a clinical psychologist making it easy to implement in many settings. The sessions discuss coping strategies such as relaxation and increasing pleasant events, and give practical information, leading to planning for the future. 

The programme has been designed to keep costs low, and the results suggest it could actually result in cost savings in the longer term.  A family caregiver who is healthy and supported may be able to look after someone with dementia better and need to access health and respite care less than a caregiver with no support. 

Professor Livingston says:

Carers using the session often had an “aha!” moment when they realised a person with dementia cannot manage to change their own behaviour and they need help to do it. They used their new skills after the therapy, with one carer saying it helped them to acknowledge and live with their emotions.



  • Credit/Source: START