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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2011 Nov;66(6):756-68. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbr107. Epub 2011 Oct 11.

Family triad perceptions of mild cognitive impairment.

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  • 1Center for Gerontology (0426), Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA.



We examined subjective perceptions of memory loss among older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and two other relatives in order to improve understanding of family coping. We also investigated contextual conditions associated with perceptions of family dynamics and relationships.


We conducted interviews with 56 family triads (the elder with MCI, the primary care partner, and a secondary care partner). Guided by Pearlin and colleagues' caregiving stress process framework, questions addressed perceptions of memory changes and interpretation of the effects of MCI on family interaction patterns.


Analyses of family triads revealed four degrees of the extent to which family members similarly acknowledged elders' MCI. The acknowledgment groups differed on history of family dynamics, experience with dementia, and perceived extent of memory change in the elder. Families characterized by full acknowledgment coped better with perceived changes in the elder's functioning than those in which members' perceptions of MCI were incongruent.


Pursuing family-level data on responses to MCI uncovered more nuanced reactions, often differing across triad members, than individual-based research has found. Family perceptions about changes in elders' memory have important implications for within-family interactions and support that can help families cope successfully with MCI.

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