Objectives: Within an implementation study, we investigated the effectiveness of a combined community-based day care programme for persons with dementia and their carers versus traditional psychogeriatric nursing home-based day care. The effects on needs, sense of competence, burden and quality of life of the family carers were studied. Methods: A pretest–posttest control group design among family carers of people with dementia who joined community-based day care centres (n = 67) or nursing home-based day care centres (n = 64). Results: After six months, family carers using community-based day care more often expressed an unmet need for support regarding psychological distress than carers utilising nursing home-based day care. No effect of community-based day care on sense of competence was found. However, carers with a low sense of competence at baseline using community-based compared to nursing home-based day care became less emotionally burdened by behaviour and mood problems of their relative. Conclusion and discussion: Overall, no added value of community-based day care on needs, sense of competence, burden and quality of life was found. Increased unmet needs on psychological distress may have been caused by the increased awareness of carers participating in the carer programme of community-based day care regarding their own unmet support needs. For carers with a low sense of competence, community-based day care proves to decrease the impact of behaviour and mood problems of their relative. A larger controlled follow-up study is recommended to understand the long-term effects of community-based day care over nursing home-based day care.