Emotion regulation is a central determinant of psychological and physical well-being. As individuals age, they show decline in various aspects of cognition thought to be central to effective emotion regulation. Nonetheless, older adults are typically able to maintain their emotional well-being, such that they experience more stable and positive emotions in daily life. It is unclear, however, whether those with more accelerated cognitive decline also retain this ability to effectively regulate their emotions. It is conceivable that those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), who are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, can compensate for declines in cognitive control by harnessing existing personal and social resources to meet their emotional goals. This ability may break down, however, when resources are taxed or if cognitive impairment becomes more severe. The proposed project will address critical questions about the role of cognitive control in emotion regulation and delineate sources of vulnerability for emotion dysregulation in later adulthood. In doing so, it will test whether relying on less cognitively demanding strategies and drawing on social ties in daily life can buffer older adults from the potential negative impact of MCI on emotional well-being outcomes. The overall objective of the proposed project is to advance understanding of the effectiveness of emotion regulation in later adulthood among those with MCI and healthy cognitive aging.
The specific aims of the project are to (1) identify whether emotion regulation effectiveness differs in older adults with MCI (versus older adults with healthy cognitive aging and younger adults), (2) characterize patterns of emotion regulation strategy use among older adults with MCI, and (3) isolate contexts in which older adults with MCI are buffered from emotion regulation difficulties. To achieve these aims, a representative sample of older adults (ages 70 to 84) with MCI or normal cognitive aging and younger adults (ages 20 to 34) will be recruited for a three-part study that incorporates both standardized lab tasks and experience sampling of daily life. Participants will complete two laboratory sessions. The first session will include a comprehensive cognitive battery (including measures of fluid and crystallized cognition) and self-report measures of physical health and personality. The second session will include a standardized emotion regulation film task in which emotional outcomes (subjective experience and behavioral expressions) will be assessed after instructing participants to decrease sadness or disgust using an assigned strategy (reappraisal or distraction) and self-selected strategies. Between these two laboratory sessions, participants will complete 14 days of experience sampling that will assess their daily emotional experience and emotion regulation, tracking emotion dynamics and flexibility of strategy use. Ultimately, this work could aid in improving quality of life in MCI and as well as healthy aging populations by illuminating ways to optimize emotion regulation efforts based on one's existing resources.

Public Health Relevance

Although MCI is often accompanied by adverse changes in mood, older adults may be able to offset these difficulties by adjusting their emotion regulation tactics and drawing on social connections. This study will provide a better understanding of how emotion regulation operates among older adults with MCI compared to those with healthy cognitive aging, highlighting modifiable factors that play a key role in their daily emotional lives. Ultimately, the proposed research can improve quality of life in aging populations by shedding light on how to facilitate effective emotion regulation based on one's resources, leading to beneficial downstream consequences for physical and mental health, as well as social relationships.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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Washington University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Saint Louis
United States
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