Objectives Meta-analysis studies of specific types of support groups are limited. We conducted a review and assessment of the effectiveness of support groups for caregivers of demented patients, and examined the impact of support group characteristics. Methods A search of multiple, electronic databases including the Cochrane Library, Medline, PUBMED, and others was conducted; studies published between 1998 and 2009 were collected. Thirty quantitative journal articles that were true and quasi-experimental controlled trials on support groups for non-professional caregivers, including mutual support, psychoeducational, and educational groups were analyzed. Outcome indicators were psychological well-being, depression, burden, and social outcomes. Results Support groups showed a significant positive effect on caregivers' psychological well-being (Hedge's g = -0.44, 95% CI = -0.73, -0.15), depression (Hedge's g = -0.40, 95% CI = -0.72, -0.08), burden (Hedge's g = -0.23, 95% CI = -0.33, -0.13), and social outcomes (Hedge's g = 0.40, 95% CI = 0.09, 0.71). The use of theoretical models, and length and intensity of group sessions had a significant impact on the effect sizes for psychological well-being and depression. Ratio of female participation (for psychological well-being and depression) and average age (social outcomes) were significant predictor variables. Conclusions Support groups benefit caregivers and findings of this meta-analysis serve as immediate guidance for group facilitators. Future research should include additional outcome variables with our defined factors on effectiveness collected as demographic characteristic data for comparison. A more comprehensive understanding of the effectiveness of support groups is indicated to enhance outcomes for caregivers and patients.
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