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Alzheimer's, dementia, cognition, ageing, caregiving, matching, sampling, stress


Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. The Atlantic Philanthropies. Alzheimer Society of Ireland. Health Research Board. Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship.


The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Aging & Mental Health. 2018, available online at:


PURPOSE OF THE STUDY: Caregiving for a person with dementia is frequently used to model the impact of chronic stress on health, including cognitive functioning. However, the prevalence of typically healthier, self-selecting non-caregiving control groups could contribute to a picture of poorer caregiver performance and overstate the negative effects of stress. We investigated differences in cognitive performance between dementia caregivers and two groups of non-caregivers recruited using different sampling methods.

DESIGN AND METHODS: We compared cognitive function and psychological wellbeing among 252 spousal dementia caregivers with demographically matched non-caregiving control groups drawn from (1) a population study and (2) a self-selecting sample. Comparable cognitive measures included immediate and delayed recall, processing speed reaction time and verbal fluency.

RESULTS: Caregiver and non-caregiver performance was comparable on most cognitive domains. However, caregivers outperformed both control groups on processing speed (p ≤ .05) and reaction time (p ≤ .05), despite having higher levels of stress and depression (ps < .001). Furthermore, caregivers had significantly better free recall than self-selecting controls (p < .001).

IMPLICATIONS: Our results, overall, do not support the idea that caregiving is associated with stress-induced cognitive deficits. Rather, the trend toward better caregiver performance is consistent with the healthy caregiver hypothesis.


Cognitive Psychology | Health Psychology | Psychology


O'Sullivan M, Brennan S, Lawlor BA, Hannigan C, Robertson IH, Pertl MM. Cognitive functioning among cognitively intact dementia caregivers compared to matched self-selected and population controls. Aging & Mental Health. 2018;1-8.

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