Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 177–190 | Cite as

A Cognitive Psychophysiological Model to Predict Functional Decline in Chronically Stressed Older Adults

  • Peter Vitaliano
  • Diana Echeverria
  • Mary Shelkey
  • Jianping Zhang
  • James Scanlan


The current study evaluated whether psychological distress (composite of depression, anxiety, vital exhaustion), inflammation (C-reactive protein, CRP) and cognitive function (Digit Symbol Test, DST) and their changes mediated the relationship between caregiver status and functional decline. Caregivers for spouses with Alzheimer’s disease were compared to demographically-similar non-caregiver spouses at study entry (T1), T2 (1 year later), and T3 (2 years after T1). Caregivers had greater functional impairment, higher distress scores, and poorer DST scores at all points of measurement and also showed functional decline. Non-caregivers did not demonstrate functional decline. Caregivers declined 85% faster than did non-caregivers. Regressions showed that after controlling for functional impairment at T1, illness, medication, and health behavior covariates, psychological distress at T1 and increases in CRP from T1 to T3 mediated the difference in functional decline. Moreover, after DST decline from T1 to T2 was entered in the model, caregiver status, psychological distress and increases in inflammation all showed reductions in their predictive importance. These findings suggest psychological distress and increases in inflammation may help explain why caregivers show greater functional decline than non-caregivers. However, the influences of these psychophysiological variables may be driven in part by cognitive decline prior to functional decline.


Stress Caregivers Inflammation Distress Depression Cognition Function 



This paper is dedicated to Dr. John Carr, Professor Emeritus of the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the first author’s mentor, colleague, and friend. The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health R01MH57663, Clinical Nutrition Research Unit DK38516, and National Institutes of Health Clinical Research Center M01-RR00037.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Vitaliano
    • 1
  • Diana Echeverria
    • 2
  • Mary Shelkey
    • 3
  • Jianping Zhang
    • 4
  • James Scanlan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Battelle Centers for Public Health Research & EvaluationSeattleUSA
  3. 3.School of NursingUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry and PsychologyCleveland Clinic FoundationClevelandUSA

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