Cognitive reserve and self-efficacy as moderators of the relationship between stress exposure and executive functioning among spousal dementia caregivers.

BACKGROUND: A substantial literature has reported that stress negatively impacts on cognitive processes. As dementia caregiving can be stressful, it has been hypothesized that the challenges of dementia care may increase caregivers' own vulnerability to cognitive decline. Prefrontal processes are thought to be most vulnerable to stress; however, few studies have examined whether greater caregiver stress predicts poorer executive dysfunction, and no previous research has considered potential moderators of this relationship. We examined (1) whether greater psychological stress mediated a relationship between caregiver stress exposure and executive functioning and (2) whether greater self-efficacy and cognitive reserve (CR) moderated this relationship.

METHOD: Spousal dementia caregivers (n = 253) completed the Neuropsychiatric Inventory Questionnaire (stress exposure), the Perceived Stress Scale, the National Adult Reading Test (CR), the Fortinsky dementia-specific caregiver self-efficacy scale, and the Color Trails Test (executive functioning). Moderated mediation was tested using the PROCESS macro. Age, gender, and dementia risk factors were included as covariates.

RESULTS: Greater stress exposure indirectly predicted executive functioning through psychological stress. Stronger relationships between greater psychological stress and poorer executive functioning were observed among caregivers with lower CR; there was no evidence that self-efficacy moderated the relationship between stress exposure and psychological stress.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings are in line with the idea that greater psychological stress in response to challenges associated with dementia care predicts poorer caregiver executive functioning, particularly among caregivers with low CR. However, these findings are cross sectional; it is also possible that poorer executive functioning contributes to greater caregiver stress.