Does caring for a spouse with dementia accelerate cognitive decline? findings from the health and retirement study

Kara Bottiggi Dassel, Dawn C. Carr, Peter Vitaliano, Rachel Pruchno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Purpose of the Study: The purpose of this study is to expand our recent work, which showed that spousal dementia caregivers compared to spousal nondementia caregivers experience an accelerated rate of frailty over time, by exploring cognitive health outcomes between dementia and nondementia caregivers. Design and Methods: Using 8 biannual waves of the Health and Retirement Study data and performance on the modified Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status, we examined changes in cognitive health among surviving spousal caregivers (N = 1,255) of individuals with dementia (n = 192) and without dementia (n = 1,063), 2 waves prior and 2 waves following the death of the care recipient. Results: Controlling for baseline health and contextual factors (e.g., frailty status, age, education), results revealed that dementia caregivers had significantly greater cognitive decline (p < .01) compared to nondementia caregivers. Relative to 2 waves prior to the death of their spouse, dementia caregivers declined by 1.77 points relative to nondementia caregivers (0.87 points) at the time their spouses' deaths were reported and 1.89 relative to the 1.18 points at the wave following these deaths, respectively. Implications: The findings from this study show that spousal caregivers of persons with dementia experience accelerated cognitive decline themselves compared to nondementia caregivers. These results, along with our previous study findings, suggest that this vulnerable group could benefit from early cognitive screening and psychosocial interventions designed to help dementia caregivers better maintain their cognitive and physical health during and following their intensive caregiving responsibilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-328
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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