BACKGROUND: Systematic comparisons of the psychological and physical responses of caregivers of Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients in the US and China have not been previously reported. METHODS: Informal caregivers of community dwelling AD patients in Shanghai, China and demographically-matched non-caregiving Chinese controls were compared with a sample of American caregivers residing in San Diego, California and demographically-matched American controls. RESULTS: Despite some demographic discrepancies, caregivers from both China and the US were similar. Caregivers from both cultures reported more depressive symptoms and more physical symptoms when compared with non-caregivers. Both groups of caregivers reported that patients required similar amounts of care and help with activities of daily living (ADLs). However, Shanghai caregivers reported less access to emotional support when compared with the San Diego sample. A conceptual model, guided by the stress process model of Pearlin et al. (1990), was used to explore multivariate relationships between caregiver characteristics and the physical and psychological health of our sample of AD caregivers in Shanghai, China. Results from a path analytical procedure revealed that the relationships among these variables and health outcome did not differ significantly from those observed in the US sample. CONCLUSIONS: Although elderly family members are venerated in the stereotypical Chinese family unit, and informal caregiving of disabled family members is socially mandated, the negative health consequences of caregiving appear to be similar to those observed among caregivers in the US.
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