Which behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia are the most problematic? Variability by prevalence, intensity, distress ratings, and associations with caregiver depressive symptoms




Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) impact well-being for persons with dementia (PWD) and caregivers. Identifying the most problematic symptoms is vital in targeting interventions and allocating resources. The current study highlights inconsistencies in the “most problematic” symptoms when identified via prevalence, intensity, caregiver distress, or associations with caregiver depressive symptoms.


Caregivers (N = 177) were mostly female (77%) and spouses of PWD (73%), with average age of 66.7 years (SD = 16.1). They reported BPSD frequency and distress via the Revised Memory and Behavior Problem Checklist (RMBPC) and Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI), and their own depressive symptoms via the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). BPSD were ranked by prevalence, average frequency, and average distress ratings. RMBPC subscales were correlated with GDS, and discriminant function analyses used NPI symptoms to discriminate between caregivers' normal (range 0–9) or elevated (10+) GDS.


Most prevalent NPI symptoms were Apathy, Depression, and Agitation. Most intense (frequency × severity) were Appetite, Motor behaviors, and Apathy, and most distressing were Delusions, Agitation, and Irritability. For RMBPC, Memory was most frequent but least distressing, whereas Disruptive was least frequent but most distressing. RMBPC frequency and distress subscales were significantly associated with caregiver GDS. Discriminant function analyses were statistically significant (Lambda = 0.822; χ2(12) = 30.62; p = 0.002. Canonical correlation = 0.442); NPI symptoms correctly classified caregivers GDS status 72% of the time.


Symptoms revealed as “most problematic” varied by measurement criterion. Common or frequent symptoms are not necessarily the most distressing or most predictive of caregiver depression. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.