Emotion Recognition Deficits and Caregiver Burden

August 9, 2013 | Found In:  Healthy Mind

66998-383x254-Worried_Senior_CoupleFor many families in which a loved one has some form of dementia, the effects of the degenerative disease on the person’s emotional knowledge can result in a great degree of stress. Indeed, impaired emotion recognition in dementia has been associated with increased agitation, behavioral problems as well as caregiver burden.  Individuals who have challenges in deciphering emotions (e.g., fear, sadness, happiness) from facial expressions may fail to respond to loved ones in the expected manner or may become apathetic towards interpersonal interactions, alienating rather than fostering their relationships.

More recent studies have investigated the presence of emotion recognition difficulties in mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is often, though not always, a precursor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. MCI causes noticeable decline in cognitive abilities like memory and thinking skills. There are two categories of MCI: amnestic, where memory is the main problem, and non-amnestic, where there are more general cognitive impairments. By diagnostic guidelines, these changes are not severe enough to interfere with daily life or independent functioning. However, impairments in various abilities can have a very significant impact on caregiver stress.

A study published in the June issue of The Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology looked at this relationship more closely. Dr. Donna McCade and her colleagues compared the emotion recognition abilities of 27 patients with non-amnestic MCI, 29 patients with amnestic MCI and 22 control participants. They also had caregivers rate the degree of burden they felt. Older adults in both groups had greater social functioning problems when compared with age-matched peers who did not have MCI. However, impaired emotion recognition abilities appear to impact the sub-types of MCI differently: for those with non-amnestic MCI, impaired emotion recognition impacts general social function while for those with amnestic MCI, it affects burden.

The authors describe their study as the first formal research into “real life” impacts of impaired emotion recognition resulting from MCI.  It is their hope that highlighting these adverse effects will pave the way for interventions specifically targeting emotion recognition abilities and caregiver burden.

Do you think deficits in emotion recognition are causing difficulties for you or someone else caring for a loved one with age-related cognitive decline? Share your experiences and communication tips below!


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