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Psychol Aging. 2009 Sep;24(3):681-95. doi: 10.1037/a0016355.

Interpersonal effects of suffering in older adult caregiving relationships.

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Department of Psychiatry and University Center for Social and Urban Research, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


Examining the interpersonal effects of suffering in the context of family caregiving is an important step to a broader understanding of how exposure to suffering affects humans. In this review article, the authors first describe existing evidence that being exposed to the suffering of a care recipient (conceptualized as psychological distress, physical symptoms, and existential/spiritual distress) directly influences caregivers' emotional experiences. Drawing from past theory and research, the authors propose that caregivers experience similar, complementary, and/or defensive emotions in response to care recipient suffering through mechanisms such as cognitive empathy, mimicry, and conditioned learning, placing caregivers at risk for psychological and physical morbidity. The authors then describe how gender, relationship closeness, caregiving efficacy, and individual differences in emotion regulation moderate these processes. Finally, the authors provide directions for future research to deepen understanding of interpersonal phenomena among older adults, and they discuss implications for clinical interventions to alleviate the suffering of both caregivers and care recipients.

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