A new study highlights the mental health issues that carers of people with cognitive impairment experience during the pandemic.

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New research has identified a link between the mental health of carers of people with cognitive impairment, the symptom severity of these people, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on carers’ mental health.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, highlights the need to support carers of people with cognitive impairment during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the health of people worldwide. The disease has directly caused the deaths of over 1.5 million people, indirectly led to the deaths of many others, and left many experiencing the effects of “long COVID.”

Even if a person has not been affected by physical health issues related to the pandemic, there may have been an impact on their mental health.

Researchers have noted worsening mental health in response to both the threat posed by the disease and the effects of prolonged quarantine in response to it.

Informal carers of people with dementia, such as their children or spouses, are known to be at risk of a decrease in their quality of life due to their caring role. They can experience greater financial and psychological burden depending on the severity and functional impairment of the disease of the person under their care.

These informal caring roles do not stop during a pandemic. How might the mental health of carers of people with dementia have been affected during the pandemic? And what factors might account for any changes?

To explore these questions, the researchers behind the present study interviewed 67 carers of people with mild or major neurocognitive disorders in Greece, including mild cognitive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, brain vascular disease, frontotemporal lobar degeneration, and neurocognitive disorder due to mixed etiology.

Exclusion criteria for the study included experiencing an acute or unstable phase of a mental health issue, having COVID-19 or its associated symptoms, or having a friend or family member with symptoms, working in the management of the pandemic, or caring for someone living in an assisted-living facility.

The interviews followed a standardized set of questions, while the interviewers asked each carer about their distress in relation to the pandemic.

They also asked about the severity of the symptoms of the person under their care, focusing on memory deficits, neuropsychiatric symptoms, and functional impairment.

The researchers noted that carers demonstrated increased levels of distress in response to escalating symptoms in the people they were caring for both before and during the pandemic.

The scientists based their findings on a subset of 34 carers from whom there was data in the months before the enforcement of lockdown measures.

The researchers also noted that while there was a link between neuropsychiatric symptoms and memory defects in the people being cared for and an increase in carer distress during the pandemic, this increase did not have an association with increasing functional impairment.

The researchers suggest this may be because lockdown could have increased the caring time the carers had, as well as potentially limiting the functional impairment of the person they were caring for more generally.

There were some limitations to this research. It was a relatively small study, so the results may differ for a greater number of participants.

The researchers also depended on assessments by the carers to determine the symptom severity of the people under their care, which may differ from professional clinical evaluations.

Finally, while the scientists highlight a link between carer distress, the symptoms of the people they care for, and the mental health effects of the pandemic, the research does not demonstrate a causal relationship between them.

Nonetheless, the research may be valuable in highlighting the burden that carers of people with cognitive impairment may be experiencing during the pandemic.

To better support these carers, the researchers suggest developing community outreach projects and intergenerational mentoring networks, as well as improving conventional care for older adults in the community.

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