Most patients with dementia or cognitive impairment receive care from family members, often untrained for this challenging role. Caregivers may not access publicly available caregiving information, and caregiver education programs are not widely implemented clinically. Prior large surveys yielded broad quantitative understanding of caregiver information needs, but do not illuminate the in-depth, rich, and nuanced caregiver perspectives that can be gleaned using qualitative methodology.
We aimed to understand perspectives about information sources, barriers and preferences, through semi-structured interviews with 27 caregivers. Content analysis identified important themes.
We interviewed 19 women, 8 men; mean age 58.5 years; most adult children (15) or spouses (8) of the care recipient. Dementia symptoms often developed insidiously, with delayed disease acknowledgement and caregiver self-identification. While memory loss was common, behavioral symptoms were most troublesome, often initially unrecognized as disease indicators. Emerging themes: 1.) Barriers to seeking information often result from knowledge gaps, rather than reluctance to assume the caregiver role; 2.) Most caregivers currently receive insufficient information. Caregivers are open to many information sources, settings, and technologies, including referrals to other healthcare professionals, print material, and community and internet resources, but expect the primary care provider (PCP) to recommend, endorse, and guide them to specific sources.
These findings replicated and expanded on results from previous quantitative surveys and, importantly, revealed a previously unrecognized essential factor: despite receiving insufficient information, caregivers place critical value on their relationship with care recipient PCPs to receive recommendations, guidance and endorsement to sources of caregiving information. Implications include: 1.) Greater public education is needed to help caregivers identify and describe diverse cognitive, functional and behavioral symptoms that lead to dementia, and recognize the benefits of early detection in accessing information regarding multi-modality management and care; 2.) Improved methods are needed for PCPs to detect and manage cognitive and behavioral changes, as well as mechanisms that facilitate the busy PCP, either directly or via referral, to provide caregiver information, education, support, and services. The critical relationship between caregivers and PCPs should not be circumvented but should be facilitated to provide more effective guidance regarding dementia caregiver needs.