Keeping carers coping

Macquarie University researchers are offering free therapy to Sydney-based dementia carers as part of new treatment trial aimed to support the emotional health of carers.

Above:  Researcher, Dr Maria Kangas

By Keryn Curtis with contributions

Researchers from Macquarie University in Sydney are seeking participants for a new treatment trial designed to help those looking after loved ones with dementia disorders, cope with the emotional demands of being a carer.

Developed by researchers from the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University, the aim of the therapy program is to help distressed carers reduce their anxiety and/or depression, as well as improve their general well being.

Funded by Alzheimer’s Australia, the study is offering Sydney-based carers eight weekly sessions of therapy, conducted over a 10-week period. 

According to Dr Maria Kangas from the Centre for Emotional Health, there is a growing demand for this kind of service in the community.

“Presently, over 200,000 people in Australia have a dementia-related condition such as Alzheimer’s. With the current ageing population, it is estimated that by 2050, close to 1 million Australians will be suffering from dementia disorders. This means that soon, thousands more people will be caring for family members affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s,” says Dr Kangas.

Dr Kangas said previous research has found that carers are at high risk of suffering emotional problems, such as anxiety, stress and depression. Not only does this hinder a carer’s ability to provide full care for their family member suffering from dementia, she says, but the carer’s own health may deteriorate.

“Essentially, the carer role can be quite isolating, which may further increase the risk of carers’ distress,” says Dr Kangas.

“Carers play a vital role in helping family members with dementia-related conditions manage their daily needs. Therefore, ensuring the well-being of carers is important,” says Dr Kangas.

Dr Kangas said the therapeutic approach being used in this initial pilot study is a branch of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  This approach, she says, works on the behavioural principles of CBT but also includes ‘mindfulness strategies’.

“In this approach we focus on acknowledging and accepting the circumstances we cannot change and then finding ways to manage the stresses and put them into some perspective.

“This is very pertinent to people who are caring for a family member with dementia because you can’t dispute the circumstances; it isn’t possible to turn back the clock and remove the dementia.  So we need to focus on how you can ensure your own well-being stays intact so you can continue to help the family member,” Dr Kanga said.

Sessions are completely free and are being conducted now at the University. There is also the option for home visits for those in the Sydney metro area who can’t get to the Ryde campus because of their carer duties.  All potential participants will receive a screening assessment. 

Dr Kangas said while this initial study was restricted to the Sydney metropolitan area, the next step would be to further extend the study to rural and regional areas.

For further information about the trial please contact Dr Kangas and her research team on (02) 9850 8599 or (02) 9850 4082 or email:

Tags: carers, dementia, macquarie-university, maria-kanga, research, study,

1 thought on “Keeping carers coping

  1. I think this program is excellent! Most focus on the illness and the suffers but few on the carers. Maintaining the mental and emotional state of a carer is important as this enables better care. Thanks to Dr Kangas for this initiative and hopefully it will extend to the rest of the country. I work in the area of dementia and also offer support to the families and carers, I believe it is very important, to help them to cope with a life circumstance that can’t be changed or cure.

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