DOI: 10.1002/alz.079408 ISSN: 1552-5260

Assessing the psychological impact of COVID‐19 on rural informal caregivers of persons living with dementia in the United States

Jasmine Santoyo‐Olsson, Elizabeth Macias Romo, Catherine Chesla, Kenneth E Covinsky, Giselle Aguayo Ramirez, Veronica A. Yank
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology



Informal caregivers of persons living with dementia (PLWD) in rural areas of the United States (U.S.) are a vulnerable population. During the COVID‐19 pandemic, rural communities experienced heightened disparities in social services, healthcare[1], and mortality[2], including suicides[3,4]. Yet, how the pandemic affected rural caregivers is largely unknown. We examined predictors of depression and stress, as well as self‐perceived impact of COVID‐19, among rural caregivers of PLWD.


As part of the Rural Dementia Caregiver Project[5], U.S. rural informal caregivers of PLWD completed an online survey from March 1, 2021, through April 30, 2022. We conducted a mixed‐method analysis of responses to validated scales and an open‐ended question. Caregiver outcome measures include depressive symptoms[6] and stress[7]. Predictors include caregiver COVID‐19 limitations[8], loneliness[9], social isolation[10], and burden[11]. Linear regression analyses examined independent associations of predictors with outcomes, adjusting for age, sex, and caregiving hours spent per week. We completed thematic analysis of responses to the question, “How has COVID impacted your life as a caregiver?” to contextualize quantitative findings.


A total of 152 rural caregivers completed the survey, and of those 127 responded the open‐ended question. Most (81%) caregivers were aged 50 years and older, and 82% were female. Factors positively associated with caregiver depressive symptoms were loneliness (β = 0.72, p<0.0001) and burden (β = 3.18, p<0.01). Factors positively associated with caregiver stress were loneliness (β = 0.22, p<0.05) and burden (β = 1.28, p<0.05). COVID‐19 limitations and social isolation were not associated with depressive symptoms or stress. Qualitative results confirmed quantitative results (e.g., loneliness, increased burden) and revealed other aspects of the psychosocial context of pandemic caregivers including both negative (e.g., worry, decline in care partner health) and positive (e.g., increased time with care partner) factors (Table 1).


We found that loneliness and care burden contributed to the psychological distress of rural caregivers of PLWD during the COVID‐19 pandemic, and identified other contextual factors of their experiences. The pandemic exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and exposed new ones. Rural caregivers should receive increased support to address the psychosocial stressors and burdens endured during the current pandemic and future catastrophic events.

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