Looking After a Spouse With Dementia May Affect Cognition

Spouse caregivers of those with dementia at higher risk of cognitive problems than noncaregivers

FRIDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- An older person caring for a spouse with dementia may be at higher risk of cognitive impairment or dementia than a person who is not caring for a spouse with dementia, according to a review published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Peter P. Vitaliano, Ph.D., from the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues examined whether and why an older person caring for a spouse with dementia (spouse caregivers [CGs]) may have an increased risk for developing cognitive problems and decline than demographically similar older adults who do not care for a spouse with dementia (noncaregivers [NCGs]). Literature pertaining to the relationships between CG status (caregiver or noncaregiver) and cognitive problems with respect to a theoretical model of chronic stress was reviewed.

The investigators found that CG spouses may have a higher risk of cognitive impairment or dementia than NCG spouses. Their cognitive impairment or dementia could be in response to different variables, including psychosocial (loneliness, depression, social isolation, sleep problems), behavioral (diet or exercise), or physiological (metabolic syndrome or inflammation) stress mediators.

"If CG cognitive functions are compromised, this could influence the well-being of CG and care recipient, potentially contributing to a downward spiral in both parties. Fortunately, many putative risk factors identified in this review are amenable to change," the authors write.

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