Behavioral changes in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) mirror those found in frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Considering the high rate of neuropsychiatric symptoms found in ALS patients, this paper examines whether caregiver burden is associated with behavioral changes over and above the physical disability of patients with ALS, and if the presence of caregivers’ depression, anxiety and stress also impacts on caregiver burden.
140 caregivers of patients with ALS participated in a postal survey investigating patients’ neuropsychiatric symptoms (Cambridge Behaviour Inventory Revised CBI-R), motor function (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Functional Rating Scale Revised - ALSFRS-R), caregiver burden (Zarit Burden Interview), and caregiver mood (Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale- DASS21). Seventy four percent of them were caregivers of patients with limb onset and 25.7% were caregivers of patients with bulbar onset.
Moderate to severe behavioral changes were reported in 10-40% of patients with ALS. The levels of depression, anxiety and stress in the caregivers reached 20%. Burden was high in 48% of the caregivers. The strongest predictor of high caregiver burden was ALS patients’ abnormal behavior rather than physical disability, with an odds ratio of 1.4, followed by caregivers’ stress.
Our study has identified that behavioral changes (e.g. disinhibition, impulsivity) and caregiver stress have greater impact on caregiver burden than level and pattern of physical disability.