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Lower Visual Avoidance in Dementia Patients Is Associated with Greater Psychological Distress in Caregivers.

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Caring for a spouse with dementia can lead to increased health problems in caregivers. The present study examined whether patient deficits in visual avoidance, a common form of emotion regulation, are related to greater psychological distress in caregivers. Participants were 43 Alzheimer disease (AD) patients, 43 behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) patients, and their spousal caregivers. Patient visual avoidance (e.g., gaze aversion) was measured using behavioral coding of head, body, and eye position while viewing a disgusting film. Caregiver psychological distress was measured using a standard self-report symptom inventory. Lower use of visual avoidance by patients was associated with greater psychological distress in their caregivers. This relationship was partially mediated by patient overall emotional functioning (as reported by caregivers), such that patients with less visual avoidance were seen as having worse emotional functioning, which in turn related to greater caregiver psychological distress. Dementia diagnosis moderated this effect, with diminished patient visual avoidance particularly detrimental to psychological distress of bvFTD caregivers. Findings suggest that the use of visual avoidance may serve as a marker of overall emotional functioning in patients and that preservation of this emotion regulatory behavior may help reduce the negative effects of caregiving.

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