UCL News


Improving the lives of dementia carers

19 November 2014

A psychological intervention that provides stress relief and emotional support for people caring for relatives with dementia can reduce depression and anxiety and improve wellbeing at no extra cost to standard care, finds new UCL research published in Lancet Psychiatry.

Dementia patient

The study led by Professor Gill Livingston (UCL Psychiatry) found that family caregivers receiving the START (STrAtegies for RelaTives) programme were seven times less likely to develop clinically significant depression than those given usual care, with benefits lasting for at least 2 years.

Two-thirds of people with dementia live at home, with their family providing most of their care. There are around 670 000 of these family carers in the UK and more than 15 million in the USA. However, about 40% of family carers develop clinical depression or anxiety, which typically leads to care breakdown, and results in individuals with dementia moving to a care home.

Livingston and colleagues randomly assigned 260 family carers who did not have depression at the start of the study to either the 8-session START programme (173 carers) or to usual care consisting of medical, psychological, and social services for the person with dementia (control; 87). START was delivered by non-clinically trained psychology graduates working on a one-to-one basis with family carers at their home to identify individual difficulties and implement coping strategies (eg, behavioural management techniques, help with accessing emotional support, and relaxation).

Assessments were made of depression and anxiety using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and of cost-effectiveness over 2 years.

On average, carers in the START group reported a significant (2.58 point) improvement in HADS total score compared to the usual care group in both the short (8 months) and long term (24 months). Moreover, START was no more expensive, and showed the best value for money based on NICE cost effectiveness thresholds

According to Professor Livingston, "Worldwide, there are an estimated 44 million people with dementia, and this figure is likely to double every 20 years. Too often people forget the substantial effect dementia has on family members caring for relatives with dementia. Policy frameworks assume that families will remain the main providers of their (unpaid) support. This new cost-neutral programme is an effective way to support carers and improve their mental health and quality of life and should be made widely available."



  • Dementia patient (courtesy of Neil Moralee on Flickr)


  • The Lancet