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Pronoun Use among Caregivers of People Living with Dementia: Associations with Dementia Severity Using Text Analysis of a Natural Language Sample

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Family caregivers of persons living with dementia (PLWDs) have extensive social, physical, emotional, and financial responsibilities. However, less is known about the relationship and interpersonal connection between caregivers and PLWDs. We examined caregiver pronoun use, as an index of the connection between the caregiver and PLWD and its associations with the caregiver's and PLWD's health and well-being.


Caregivers of PLWDs (N = 320) were asked to describe a recent time they felt connected to the PLWD in their care. Responses were transcribed and coded to quantify pronoun use by category (we-pronouns, I-pronouns, and they-pronouns). Caregivers also reported on their depression, burden, and the PLWD's dementia severity and marital satisfaction. Sixty-eight caregivers repeated the same survey 24 months after the initial survey.


Caregivers used less we-pronouns when the PLWD's dementia was more severe, at both timepoints. Spousal caregivers used more we-pronouns and less I- and they-pronouns than nonspousal caregivers. There was an interaction between spousal relationship and dementia severity, such that spousal caregivers exhibited a stronger negative association between dementia severity and we-pronoun use. There were no associations between pronoun category and caregiver burden or depression.


Caregivers may feel increasingly disconnected from the PLWD as their dementia becomes more severe, as reflected by less we-pronoun usage. This study highlights the opportunity to explore relationship connection through text analysis.

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