Open Access Open Badges Research article

Mental health and wellbeing in spouses of persons with dementia: the Nord-Trøndelag health study

Helga Ask1*, Ellen Melbye Langballe2, Jostein Holmen3, Geir Selbæk2, Ingvild Saltvedt4 and Kristian Tambs1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, P.O. Box 4404, Nydalen N-0403 Oslo, Norway

2 Centre for Old Age Psychiatric Research, Innlandet Hospital Trust, P.O. Box 68, 2312 Ottestad, Norway

3 Department of General Practice and Public Health, HUNT Research Centre, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Levanger, Norway

4 Department of Neuroscience, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and Department of Geriatrics, St Olav Hospital, University Hospital of Trondheim, Trondheim, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:413  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-413

Published: 1 May 2014



Caring for a spouse diagnosed with dementia can be a stressful situation and can put the caregiving partner at risk of loss of mental health and wellbeing. The main aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between dementia and spousal mental health in a population-based sample of married couples older than 55 years of age. The association was investigated for individuals living together with their demented partner, as well as for individuals whose demented partner was living in an institution.


Data on dementia were collected from hospitals and nursing homes in the county of Nord-Trøndelag, Norway. These data were combined with data on spousal mental health, which were collected in a population-based health screening: the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT). Of 6,951 participating couples (>55 years), 131 included one partner that had been diagnosed with dementia.


Our results indicate that after adjustment for covariates, having a partner with dementia is associated with lower levels of life satisfaction and more symptoms of anxiety and depression than reported by spouses of elderly individuals without dementia. Spouses living together with a partner diagnosed with dementia experienced moderately lower levels of life satisfaction (0.35 standard deviation [SD]) and more symptoms of depression (0.38 SD) and anxiety (0.23 SD) than did their non-caregiving counterparts. Having a partner with dementia that resided in a nursing home was associated with clearly lower life satisfaction. Compared with non-caregivers, these spouses reported lower levels of life satisfaction (1.16 SD), and also more symptoms of depression (0.38 SD), and more symptoms of anxiety (0.42 SD).


Having a partner with dementia is associated with loss of mental health and reduced life satisfaction. The risk of adverse mental health outcomes is greatest after the partner’s nursing home admission.

Dementia; Caregiving; Partner; Depression; Anxiety; Life satisfaction; Ageing