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Neuropsychological consequences of chronic stress: the case of informal caregivers

Introduction: Caring for a family member with a long-term illness is a significant source of chronic stress that might significantly accelerate the cognitive ageing of informal caregivers. Nevertheless, the absence of a defined theoretical body of literature on the neuropsychology of this population makes it difficult to understand what the characteristic neuropsychological deficits of these caregivers are.; Aims: The main aim of this study is to carry out a systematic review of studies of cognitive deficits present in informal caregivers of people with several chronic pathologies, and analyse the effects of cognitive-behavioural interventions on caregivers' cognition.; Methods: The scientific literature was reviewed following the PRISMA quality criteria for reviews using the following digital databases: PubMEd, PsycINFO, and Dialnet.; Results: Identification of 2046 abstracts and retrieval of 211 full texts led to the inclusion of 38 papers. The studies showed heterogeneous results, but most of the cross-sectional studies reviewed that employed neuropsychological assessments concluded that informal caregivers reported a generalized cognitive deterioration, especially memory dysfunctions (i.e. learning verbal, visuospatial, and digit information). Moreover, they also presented low selective attention and capacity for inhibition, along with slow processing speed. Longitudinal studies confirmed that caregivers whose care situation was more prolonged showed a marked deterioration in their overall cognitive state, memory, processing speed, and vocabulary richness. However, although the patient's death does not seem to reverse the neuropsychological alterations in caregivers, cognitive-behavioural interventions that employ techniques to reduce stress levels, cognitive biases, and inadequate adaptation schemas seem to improve some of the aforementioned cognitive abilities.; Conclusions: Results from this synthesis and critical analysis of neuropsychological deficits in informal caregivers offer guidelines for diagnosing caregivers' cognitive status by including a test battery covering all the domains considered relevant. Finally, given the ability of cognitive behavioural interventions to improve cognition in caregivers, further studies on their long-term effects on caregivers are warranted. Chronic stress entails an acceleration of the cognitive ageing Cross-sectional studies concluded that informal caregivers reported a generalized cognitive deterioration Cognitive-behavioural interventions seem to improve cognitive abilities of caregivers.

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Informa UK ltd
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Aging & Mental Health
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