Taking care of older adults has become increasingly important as our population ages and social welfare policies change. Many caregivers, who are often family members, friends, or neighbors, provide essential support to help older people with daily chores, healthcare, and social activities.
In a recent review of systematic reviews (a so-called ‘umbrella review’), researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm University, examined a very large array of interventions that may alleviate the negative health consequences (both physical and psychological) experienced by informal caregivers.
In total, this umbrella review analyzed 47 different systematic reviews, accounting for 619 distinct primary studies. Both quantitative and qualitative reviews were included, focusing on informal caregivers of older individuals or those with age-related diseases.
Much to the researchers’ surprise, the findings were inconclusive: despite a considerable body of literature, there was no definitive proof about the effectiveness of various interventions on the health of informal caregivers. However, it seems that multicomponent, and person-centered interventions could be the most effective and well-received.
The study highlighted several critical issues, including the low quality of evidence and the redundant production of similar reviews. To address these concerns, researchers stressed the need for more robust intervention research and evaluation practices. They also emphasized the importance of tailored approaches to intervention design, recognizing that a one-size-fits-all strategy may not be effective.
In conclusion, even though there is no definitive proof that certain interventions are truly effective, it seems that multicomponent and flexible interventions are the most likely to address the complex needs of caregivers, making them more acceptable and thus leading to more tangible effects on their health. To confirm this, we do not need more reviews: we need more carefully designed intervention studies of high quality. In the meantime, primary care and other existing resources should be leveraged to provide more personalized support to caregivers.
The umbrella review is accessible free of charge, on the following link: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/13/4/e068646
This work has been funded by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (FORTE, 2020-01544)