Depressive Symptoms and Caregiving Intensity Before and After Onset of Dementia in Partners: A Retrospective, Observational Study : Medical Care

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Depressive Symptoms and Caregiving Intensity Before and After Onset of Dementia in Partners

A Retrospective, Observational Study

Harris, Melissa L. PhD, RN*,†; Errickson, Josh PhD; Ha, Jinkyung PhD§; Hoffman, Geoffrey J. PhD, MPH∥,¶

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Medical Care 60(11):p 844-851, November 2022. | DOI: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000001771



Caring for a partner with dementia poses significant emotional burden and high care demands, but changes in impacts before and after dementia onset is unclear.


Examine changes in depressive symptoms and hours of care provided by caregivers through the course of their partners’ cognitive decline.


Retrospective, observational study using household survey data from 2000–2016 Health and Retirement Study and count models to evaluate older individuals’ (ages ≥51 y) depressive symptoms (measured using the shortened Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale) and weekly caregiving in the 10 years before and after their partners’ dementia onset (identified using Telephone Interview Cognitive Status screening). Relationships were examined overall and by sex and race.


We identified 8298 observations for 1836 older caregivers whose partners developed dementia. From before to after partners’ dementia onset, caregivers’ mean (SD) depressive symptoms increased from 1.4 (1.9) to 1.9 (2.1) (P<0.001) and weekly caregiving increased from 4.4 (19.7) to 20.8 (44.1) (P<0.001) hours. Depressive symptoms and caregiving hours were higher for women compared with men. Depressive symptoms were higher for Blacks compared with Whites, while caregiving hours were higher for Whites. The expected count of caregivers’ depressive symptoms and caregiving hours increased by 3% (P<0.001) and 9% (P=0.001) before partners’ dementia onset and decreased by 2% (P<0.001) and 1% (P=0.63) following partners’ dementia onset. No differences observed by sex or race.


Depressive symptoms and instrumental burdens for caregivers increase substantially before the onset of dementia in partners. Early referral to specialty services is critical.

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