Respite care for people with dementia and their carers

Review question

This review aims to see whether respite care can reduce caregiver burden and stress, and increase the length of time for which a person with dementia can continue living at home.

Background

Caring for someone with dementia can be emotionally and physically demanding. Respite care is any intervention designed to give rest or relief to caregivers and it is not clear what positive and negative effects such care may have on them, or on people with dementia.

Study characteristics

Four studies with 753 participants were included in this review. Three compared respite care to no respite care and one compared respite care to polarity therapy, a type of touch therapy. All studies included people with dementia and their caregivers. We were not able to pool the results of the studies as there were so few studies and they measured the outcomes in different ways. All the studies reported outcomes for the caregiver, but only one reported outcomes for the person with dementia.

Key results

The three studies that compared respite care to no respite care found no evidence of any benefit of respite care for people with dementia or for their caregivers for any outcome, including rates of institutionalisation and caregiver burden. The study that compared respite care to polarity therapy found that polarity therapy decreased caregiver perceived stress but that there was no difference between polarity therapy and respite care for other measures of psychological health and other caregiver outcomes.

Quality of the evidence

A host of methodological problems were identified in the available trials. One study did not report data that could be analysed, the remaining three studies were very small and had a very short duration. Further methodologically sound research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

Authors' conclusions: 

Current evidence does not demonstrate any benefits or adverse effects from the use of respite care for people with dementia or their caregivers. These results should be treated with caution, however, as they may reflect the lack of high quality research in this area rather than an actual lack of benefit. Given the frequency with which respite care is advocated and provided, well-designed trials are needed in this area.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Caring for someone with dementia can be emotionally and physically demanding. Respite care is any intervention designed to give rest or relief to caregivers. It is not clear what positive and negative effects such care may have on them, or on people with dementia.

Objectives: 

To assess the benefits and harms of respite care for people with dementia and their caregivers, in particular the effect of respite care on rates of institutionalisation.

Search strategy: 

The trials were identified from a search of ALOIS, the Specialized Register of the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group, using the terms respite* OR daycare OR caregiver* relief. ALOIS contains up-to-date records from all major healthcare databases and many ongoing trial databases.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials comparing respite care with a control intervention for people with dementia.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors carried out study selection independently and reached a consensus through discussion. Data were extracted by a single review author. The review authors contacted all investigators for methodological details not reported in the text and for additional data for three studies included in the previous version of the review.

Main results: 

Four trials are now included in the review, with 753 participants. They were different in many ways including the intervention, duration, outcomes and control group so pooling of data was not possible. Overall, the quality of the evidence was rated as very low. Re-analysis of outcomes using data from the published studies found no significant effects of respite care compared to no respite care on any caregiver variable. When respite care was compared to polarity therapy a significant effect was found in favour of polarity therapy for caregiver perceived stress (n = 38, MD 5.80, 95% CI 1.43 to 10.17), but not for other measures of psychological health and other caregiver outcomes. No studies reported evaluable data on outcomes related to the people with dementia.

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