Associations Between Psychological Distress, Learning, and Memory in Spouse Caregivers of Older Adults
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AbstractFamily caregivers of older adults experience high levels of chronic stress and psychological distress, which are known to impair cognition. Very little research, however, has assessed the impact of caregiving on key cognitive outcomes such as learning and memory. This study compared 16 spouse caregivers with 16 matched controls using standardized neuropsychological measures of learning, episodic memory, and working memory. Analyses compared groups on these cognitive outcomes and examined whether psychological distress mediated group differences in cognition. Results indicated that caregivers were significantly more distressed than non-caregivers and exhibited deficits in learning, recall of episodic information after short and long delays, and working memory. Furthermore, the majority of group differences in cognitive outcomes were mediated by psychological distress. This study adds to a small body of literature demonstrating impaired cognitive functioning among family caregivers. It also suggests that distress is one of a number of possible underlying mechanisms leading to disruptions in learning and memory in this population. Copyright 2009, Oxford University Press.