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Original Investigation
July 8, 2019

Association Between Caregiver Depression and Emergency Department Use Among Patients With Dementia

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco
  • 2Weill Institute for Neurosciences, University of California, San Francisco
  • 3Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco
  • 4Editor, JAMA Neurology
  • 5Department of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco
  • 6Department of Geriatrics, Gerontology, and Palliative Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha
  • 7Department of Internal Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha
JAMA Neurol. 2019;76(10):1166-1173. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.1820
Key Points

Question  Is caregiver depression associated with emergency department use among patients with dementia?

Findings  This cohort study of patients with dementia and their caregivers included 663 caregiver-patient dyads. A total of 84 caregivers had depression at baseline and the presence of caregiver depression was associated with a 73% increase in the rates of emergency department use among patients with dementia.

Meaning  Caregiver depression appears to be an important risk factor associated with increased health care use among community-dwelling individuals with dementia.


Importance  Current attempts to gauge the acute care needs of patients with dementia have not effectively addressed the role of caregivers, despite their extensive involvement in decisions about acute care management.

Objective  To determine whether caregiver depression is associated with increased use of the emergency department (ED) among patients with dementia.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This longitudinal cohort study used data from the Care Ecosystem study, a randomized clinical trial examining telephone-based supportive care for patients with dementia and their caregivers. Patients were 45 years or older with any type of dementia. A total of 780 caregiver-patient dyads were enrolled from March 20, 2015, until February 28, 2017, and 663 dyads contributed baseline and 6-month data and were included in the analysis.

Exposures  Caregiver depression (9-item Patient Health Questionnaire score of ≥10). Secondary analyses examined caregiver burden and self-efficacy.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was the number of ED visits in a 6-month period.

Results  Among the 663 caregivers (467 women and 196 men; mean [SD] age, 64.9 [11.8] years), 84 caregivers (12.7%) had depression at baseline. The mean incidence rate of ED visits was 0.9 per person-year. Rates of ED presentation were higher among dyads whose caregiver did vs did not have depression (1.5 vs 0.8 ED visits per person-year). In a Poisson regression model adjusting for patient age, sex, severity of dementia, number of comorbidities, and baseline ED use, as well as caregiver age and sex, caregiver depression continued to be associated with ED use, with a 73% increase in rates of ED use among dyads with caregivers with depression (adjusted incident rate ratio, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.30-2.30). Caregiver burden was associated with higher ED use in the unadjusted model, but this association did not reach statistical significance after adjustment (incident rate ratio, 1.19; 95% CI, 0.93-1.52). Caregiver self-efficacy was inversely proportional to the number of ED visits in the unadjusted and adjusted models (adjusted incident rate ratio, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.92-0.99).

Conclusions and Relevance  Among patients with dementia, caregiver depression appears to be significantly associated with increased ED use, revealing a key caregiver vulnerability, which, if addressed with patient- and caregiver-centered dementia care, could improve health outcomes and lower costs for this high-risk population.