Older Caregivers at Greater Risk for Cognitive Decline

FRIDAY May 13, 2011 -- Caring for a loved one who is ill is always stressful, but older people caring for a spouse who has dementia may face an increased risk for cognitive problem or dementia themselves, researchers report.

The new study, published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, warns that caregivers need support to maintain their own mental health and ability to care for their loved ones.

Researchers reviewed studies examining the cognitive health of older adults caring for a family member (primarily a spouse) with dementia. The review revealed that spouses who are caregivers may have a higher risk of cognitive impairment or dementia than spouses who are not caregivers.

"Persons who are caring for a spouse with dementia may themselves be at risk for cognitive problems which, in turn, will not only negatively influence their quality of life, but may reduce their ability to provide the necessary care for their spouse," study author Peter Vitaliano, University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a journal news release. "Spouse caregivers are extremely important because most care-recipients prefer to be cared for in their homes, and, by remaining in their homes, health-care costs are reduced greatly."

The study attributed the caregivers' cognitive decline to a number of possible contributing factors, including:

  • Psychosocial factors: depression, loneliness, social isolation and sleep problems.
  • Behavioral factors: exercise and diet.
  • Physiological factors: obesity, chronically elevated insulin and inflammation.

The researchers concluded that strategies are needed to help ease psychological distress and promote healthy behaviors among caregivers, such as eating right and exercising.

More information

The AARP has a resource center offering tips and advice for caregivers.

Posted: May 2011


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