1036 GMT October 19, 2019
Carers who took part in the program were five times less likely to have clinically significant depression than carers who were not offered the therapy, according to the findings published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, eurekalert.org wrote.
The intervention has also been shown to be cost-effective in a prior study.
The START (STrAtegies for RelaTives) program is delivered by psychology graduates, trained and supervised by the research team, instead of qualified clinicians, making it easy to implement in many settings.
Those delivering the therapy work with carers to develop coping strategies, supporting them to manage their own wellbeing in the long run without needing further therapy sessions. Carers received eight sessions during which there is an emphasis on planning for the future and accessing further support if needed.
Two hundred and sixty family carers took part in the trial, most of whom were caring for a family member who had only recently been diagnosed with dementia. One Hundred and seventy-three participants were enrolled in the START program for a two-year period and the other 87 were randomly assigned to a control group that did not receive the intervention.
Six years after receiving the therapy, the carers who were in the START program had significantly fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and the researchers say the therapy program appeared to be both preventative and improve existing mental ill-health.
Patient-related costs were close to three times lower among the families in the START program (averaging £5759 for those in START versus £16 964 in the control group in year six), which the researchers say is likely due to the carers being more able to cope and provide care for their loved one.
The difference of patient-related costs did not reach statistical significance, but the researchers say this is due to the fact medical costs can be very large and variable. However, their results do strongly suggest the program is not only cost-effective, but could save money for healthcare services.
"We've designed our program to keep costs low, and our results suggest it could actually result in cost savings in the longer term as dementia patients will have fewer costly medical problems if their family carer is healthy and supported," said Professor Livingston.
The START team have developed manuals to make it easier for any healthcare provider to deliver the intervention, and plan to provide accredited training at UCL in the near future. Alzheimer's Society are supporting the team to explore different options for getting the intervention further implemented into practice, and provided funding to make cultural adaptations to widen access to minority ethnic groups. The training manuals are also available in Japanese and Spanish, and are currently being translated into Urdu.