The Physical and Mental Health of Spouse Caregivers in Dementia: Finding Meaning as a Mediator of Burden

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Susan M. McLennon, PhD, ANP-BC
Barbara Habermann, RN, PhD
School of Nursing, Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN

Learning Objective 1: describe the effect of caregiver burden on the health of older adults caring for their spouse with dementia.

Learning Objective 2: define the role of finding meaning in caregiving as way of reducing the effect of burden on the health of spouse caregiver's in dementia.

The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of caregiver burden on the physical and mental health of caregivers of spouses with dementia and to determine if finding meaning through caregiving mediated the relationship between burden and health. Finding meaning in caregiving has been described from a existential perspective as being comprised of three components: 1) provisional meaning, 2) ultimate meaning, and 3) loss and hopelessness. This was a cross-sectional, correlational study in a convenience sample of 84 community-residing spouse caregivers of adults with dementia recruited from North-Central Florida. Measures included the Zarit Burden Interview, the Finding Meaning Through Caregiving Scale, and the Medical Outcomes Short Form-36, version 2. Data analyses consisted of descriptive, correlational, and multiple regression statistical methods. Results indicated that finding meaning partially mediated the effect of burden on mental health. These findings suggest that caregivers of spouses with dementia may be at risk for declines in mental health due to caregiving burden. However, spouses who found their caregiving experience to be meaningful, had better mental health outcomes in spite of the overall burden. Methods to assist spouse caregivers to find  meaning in their experience needs further investigation.