Caring for a Spouse with Mild Cognitive Impairment: Daily Challenges, Marital Relations, and Physiological Indicators of Health

Live webinar held April 2, 2012

2008 Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award*

(see more funded projects here)

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a term used for early decline in memory and in the abilities to carry out a series of steps in sequence and make appropriate decisions. It is an ambiguous condition because often the person with MCI appears to be healthy and able to function normally in many ways, yet begins to show some signs of memory loss, confusion, and apathy. Physicians usually cannot predict whether or when the MCI might worsen.

Although by clinical definition Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is associated with minimal interference in activities of daily living and personal relationships, preliminary studies of effects on patients’ families suggest a notable impact. This ARDRAF-funded investigation assessed the daily frequency and intensity of the behavioral symptoms and challenges of persons diagnosed with MCI, examining associations with the psychological and physical health and well-being of their spousal care partners. Significant fluctuations in symptoms, behaviors, and outcomes for the care partners across days (within-person variation) as well as across individuals (between-person variation) were documented. Problem behaviors had a significant influence on the positive or negative outlook of care partners and on their marital interactions. On days when care partners experienced more stressors in situations not concerning the person with MCI, they reported more physical health symptoms. In contrast, on days when care partners reported memory-related problems in their spouses, they had higher levels of salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase. These atypical, stress-related hormone reactions may put the care partners’ physical health at greater risk. Significant differences across care partners suggest that various types and levels of interventions will be effective according to the needs and personal characteristics of the care partners. Providing support to a loved one encountering cognitive difficulty often requires significant changes in everyday roles and responsibilities. These minor but cumulative changes, have a cascading effect on family relationships and psychological health, and take a toll on the care partner’s physical health. Health workers and other professionals could use these findings to encourage care partners to get needed help and find ways of coping with stress.


Karen A. Roberto, Ph.D., Rosemary Blieszner, Ph.D., and Jyoti Savla, Ph.D.

 The Alzheimer’s Association and the Commonwealth of Virginia Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund supported this research.

More Information: 

(Dr. Roberto and colleagues may be contacted at 540/231-7657)

To receive the full final report submitted to the ARDRAF, please contact the investigators or the ARDRAF administrator, Dr. Constance Coogle ( 


Savla, J., Roberto, K. A., Blieszner, R., Cox, M., & Gwazdauskas, F. (2011). Effects of daily stressors on the psychological and biological well-being of spouses of persons with mild cognitive impairment. The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 66(6), 653-664. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbr041


Roberto, K. A., Blieszner, R., & Savla, J. (2009). Daily Stressors and implications of Mild Cognitive Impairment for care partners. Presented at the 62nd Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, Atlanta, GA.


National Center for Research Resources, NIH (PENDING; $1,527,172 direct costs for 5 years)
Title: “MCI Care Partners: Biopsychosocial Pathways to Health” (K. Roberto & J. Savli, PIs)


*The Virginia Center on Aging which administers the Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund for the Commonwealth of Virginia, provides seed money to researchers in Virginia to stimulate innovative research into biomedical and psychosocial aspects of dementia, including cell biology, caregiving, and animal modeling.
ARDRAF-Funded Project Title: “Caring for a spouse with Mild Cognitive Impairment: Daily Challenges, Marital Relations, and Physiological Indicators”


Tina SavlaTina Savla, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development and a Research Methodologist for the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech.  Her research investigates everyday life factors and their associations with health and disease, particularly among caregivers and older adults. She is currently involved in studies of the effects of chronic stress on psychological, social and physical health outcomes among the caregivers for persons with MCI, early and late dementia.  She also serves as a biostatistician for an NIH-funded Phase II Clinical trial to demonstrate the efficacy of resistance training in older adults with pre-diabetes to improve glucose homeostasis.  Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, Dr. Savla completed a 2-year NIMH-funded Post-doctoral training at Penn State’s Gerontology Center.


Ayn WellefordE.  Ayn Welleford, PhD, received her BA in Management/Psychology from Averett College, MS in Gerontology and PhD in Developmental Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has taught extensively in the areas of Lifespan Development, and Adult Development and Aging, Geropsychology, and Aging & Human Values. As an educator, researcher, and previously as a practitioner she has worked with a broad spectrum of individuals across the caregiving and long term care continuum.  As Associate Professor and Chair of VCU’s Department of Gerontology, she currently works to “Improve Elder Care through Education” through her Teaching, Scholarship, and Community Engagement. Outside of the classroom, Dr. Welleford provides community education and serves on several boards and committees.  She is the Immediate Past Chair of the Governor’s Commonwealth of Virginia Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Commission. Dr. Welleford is the proud recipient of the 2008 AGHE Distinguished Teacher Award.

The free webinar was co-sponsored by the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Gerontology, AlzPossible and funded in part by the Commonwealth of Virgina’s Geriatric Training and Education Initiative administered by the Virginia Center on Aging.