Study Demonstrates Effectiveness of Online Support Groups for Caregivers

As the prevalence of dementia increases, so does the prevalence of unpaid caregiving, as family members need to assume caregiving roles with their loved ones. Research has shown that this unpaid labor puts caregivers at significantly higher risk of mental and physical distress.  A recent Canadian study demonstrated the viability of using internet-based intervention programs to manage caregiver distress by encouraging improved self-efficacy and social support (Marziali and Garcia 2011).

The study tested two internet-based interventions on two different groups over a six-month period: a webchat-based support group that also provided a caregiver information handbook and informational videos, and a video-based group that provided live online group therapy in addition to the caregiver handbook. Both groups saw significant improvement in self-efficacy and a decline in distress related to caregiving tasks, while the video group showed a significantly greater improvement in mental health. Statistical analyses suggested that the decrease in anxious and depressive symptoms in the video group took place though therapeutic changes in personality traits, social support, and self-efficacy.

In addition to the quantitative scale measurements on mental health, self-efficacy, and caregiver burden, the researchers also analyzed the texts from the chats and the speech from the video sessions, as well as conductive follow-up interviews. The qualitative data show that the support of other caregivers, such as by validating the negative emotions associated with caregiving and sharing different strategies, was particularly valued by participants. While both groups saw improvement, the success of the video group suggests that this method might be particularly useful for caregivers living in remote areas, or who might struggle to leave the home for therapy of other support due to the time demands of caregiving. This study show new ways for electronic health interventions to provide cost-efficient use for caregivers and their families.

Article cited:

Marziali E and Garcia LJ, (2011). “Dementia Caregivers’ Responses to 2 Internet-Based Intervention Programs.” American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias (26(1):36-43.

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