Most family caregivers adapt well to the death of their care recipient relative; however, a sizable minority continues to experience postdeath psychiatric morbidity. The purpose of this study was to better understand why some caregivers manifest clinical levels of complicated grief postdeath. This is the first study to prospectively assess predictors of complicated grief among family caregivers of patients with dementia who experience the death of their care recipient.
The sample of bereaved caregivers is drawn from a larger study of 1,222 family caregivers providing in-home care to their relative with dementia. In-home assessments of caregivers and patients were carried out at baseline and six-month intervals for a total of 18 months. This article is based on the 217 caregivers who experienced the death of their care recipient in the course of the study. Three logistic regression models are tested to identify pre- and postbereavement predictors of complicated grief, including sociodemographic factors, characteristics of the caregiving experience, including participation in a caregiver intervention, other psychiatric morbidities, and medication use.
According to interview results twenty percent of dementia caregivers evidenced complicated grief along with high levels of depressive symptomatology postdeath. Controlling for sociodemographic factors, caregivers who had high levels of preloss depressive symptoms and burden, reported positive features of the caregiving experience, and were caring for a more cognitively impaired patient were more likely to report clinical levels of complicated grief postloss. In addition, caregivers who were enrolled in a psychosocial caregiver intervention designed to reduce depression and burden reported lower levels of complicated grief.
So, this study identifies predictors of complicated grief for which interventions could be developed to not only ease caregiver distress, but also serve as preventive interventions for bereavement. Reducing the burden of active caregiving, treating depression before the death of the loved one and providing supportive psychosocial and skills training caregiver interventions can prevent the emergence of postdeath psychiatric morbidity.