Few studies have examined the association between caregiving and the cognitive functioning of caregivers. This study explored the association between caring for family members and cognition and how the link differs by caregiving intensity and caregiving types. Furthermore, rural-urban and gender heterogeneity were investigated.
This study analyzed waves 2011, 2013, and 2018 of the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study, with cognitive functioning assessed in three dimensions: memory, executive function, and orientation function. The cognition trajectories between caregivers and noncaregivers were compared with the growth curve model.
Results demonstrated a positive association between caregiving and cognitive functioning (β=0.249, P<0.001). Considering caregiving intensity, the positive association was only found in low (β=0.335, P<0.001) and moderate-intensity caregivers (β=0.250, P<0.05) but not found in high-intensity caregivers. Moreover, grandparents, adult children, and multiple caregivers had a higher average cognition level at age 60 than noncaregivers (all β>0, all P<0.05), and adult child caregivers exhibited a significantly slower rate of decline in cognition across age (β=0.040, P<0.01). However, spousal caregivers showed no significant disparities with noncaregivers. Moreover, the impact of caregiving on memory function is more apparent among urban adults.
Results indicate that caregiving can benefit cognitive function. This study proposes considering caregiving intensity and caregiving types when exploring caregiving and cognition. Based on these findings, policymakers may overcome the challenges involved in establishing and developing a supportive informal care system in China.