Emotion recognition and reactivity in persons with neurodegenerative disease are differentially associated with caregiver health


Background and Objectives: Motivated by the high rates of health problems found among caregivers of persons with neurodegenerative disease, we examined associations between deficits in two aspects of care recipients’ socioemotional functioning and their caregivers’ health. Research Design and Methods: In 2 studies with independent samples (N = 171 and 73 dyads), caregivers reported on care recipients’ emotion recognition and emotional reactivity. Caregiver health was assessed using both self-report measures (Studies 1 and 2) and autonomic nervous system indices (Study 2). Results: Lower emotion recognition in care recipients was linearly associated with worse self-reported health, faster resting heart rate, and greater physiological reactivity to an acoustic startle stimulus in caregivers. These effects held after accounting for a variety of risk factors for poor caregiver health, including care recipients’ neuropsychiatric symptoms. Emotional reactivity showed a quadratic association with health, such that the lowest and highest levels of emotional reactivity in care recipients were associated with lower self-reported health in caregivers. Discussion and Implications: Results shed light on the unique associations between two aspects of care recipients’ emotional functioning and caregivers’ health. Findings suggest potential ways to identify and help caregivers at heightened risk for adverse health outcomes.

The Gerontologist