Effects of between-person differences and within-person changes in symptoms of anxiety and depression on older-age cognitive performance

Erika J Laukka, Dominika Dykiert, Michael Allerhand, John Starr, Ian Deary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Anxiety and depression are both important correlates of cognitive function. However, longitudinal studies investigating how they covary with cognition within the same individual are scarce. We aimed to simultaneously estimate associations of between-person differences and within-person variability in anxiety and depression with cognitive performance in a sample of non-demented older people.
Participants in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921 study, a population-based narrow-age sample (mean age at wave 1 = 79 years, n = 535), were examined on five occasions across 13 years. Anxiety and depression were measured with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and cognitive performance was assessed with tests of reasoning, logical memory, and letter fluency. Data were analyzed using two-level linear mixed-effects models with within-person centering.
Divergent patterns were observed for anxiety and depression. For anxiety, between-person differences were more influential; people who scored higher on HADS anxiety relative to other same-aged individuals demonstrated poorer cognitive performance on average. For depression, on the other hand, time-varying within-person differences were more important; scoring higher than usual on HADS depression was associated with poorer cognitive performance relative to the average level for that participant. Adjusting for gender, childhood mental ability, emotional stability, and disease burden attenuated these associations.
The results from this study highlight the importance of addressing both between- and within-person effects of negative mood and suggest that anxiety and depression affect cognitive function in different ways. The current findings have implications for assessment and treatment of older age cognitive deficits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1350-1358
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number8
Early online date17 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


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