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Kessler Foundation scientists report negative impact of long-term caregiving on cognition

West Orange, NJ. November 13, 2012. Kessler Foundation scientists will present their study showing the negative impact of long-term caregiving on cognition at the Gerontological Society of America's 65th Annual Meeting. The meeting will be held November 14-18 , 2012, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.

Amanda Botticello, PhD, MPH, and Peii Chen, PhD, compared caregivers of stroke survivors with non-caregivers, using data from the Health and Retirement Study. They found that caregivers were more likely to be female, older, have lower socioeconomic status and be from a minority group. Caregivers reported more health problems, more depressive symptoms, and performed more poorly on measures of working memory, declarative memory, and recall. "These findings show that the impact of stroke is profound," noted Dr. Botticello. "There is a ripple effect that affects families, particularly spouses. The risk for stroke is higher among poor families, so we are talking about added burdens on spouses who lack the resources to cope. Because caregivers are more likely to be women, and care may be rendered for years, this is a women's health issue also."

Dr. Chen is a research scientist in Stroke Rehabilitation Research and Dr. Botticello is a research scientist in Outcomes & Assessment Research at Kessler Foundation. They both have faculty appointments at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey. Their poster presentation is Friday, Nov. 16 at 10 am:

Does Stroke Caregiving Affect Cognition? An Investigation of Change over Time

A. L. Botticello; P. Chen

Outcomes & Assessment, Kessler Foundation Research Center, West Orange, NJ; University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, NJ, USA

Purpose: Prior research attributes stroke caregiving to diminished health and functioning, but is largely limited by cross-sectional methods. The purpose of this study is to assess whether stroke caregivers experience greater declines in cognitive functioning over time relative to their non-caregiving peers.

Methods: Data are from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a longitudinal study of a nationally representative cohort of older adults. This analysis uses HRS data collected between 1996 and 2008 from couples living in the same household. Stroke caregivers are defined as persons whose spouse reported experiencing a stroke and functioning limitations (N=333). Non-caregivers are persons whose spouse had neither a history of stroke nor functioning limitations attributable to another chronic condition (N=992). Cognitive functioning is assessed in five domains: working memory, semantic memory, and episodic memory, time orientation, and learning. Growth curve models are used to estimate differences by caregiving duration for each domain controlling for gender, race, and the time-varying effects of age, income, wealth, perceived health, and depressive symptoms.

Results: Preliminary analyses reveal that caregivers experience significantly steeper declines over time relative to non-caregivers in episodic memory, working memory, and learning. Significant variation in the effect for caregiving between individuals is largely independent of age, but is accounted for by individual differences in background, socioeconomic status, and well-being for learning and episodic memory but not for working memory.

Implications: The findings from this study suggest that the demands of providing long-term assistance to a spouse who has suffered a stroke increases cognitive decline over time.

Contact: Carolann Murphy
Kessler Foundation

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