OBJECTIVE: Anxiety might be a risk factor for cognitive decline, but previous studies had short follow-up or small sample sizes or studied general or single cognitive domain functioning.
METHODS: Anxiety symptoms were assessed with the Symptom Checklist-90 in 918 participants of the Maastricht Aging Study aged 50 years or older. Anxiety was analyzed both dichotomously (highest versus lower quartiles as a group) and continuously. Neuropsychological tests measured executive function, memory, speed of information processing, and verbal fluency. Linear mixed models were conducted with anxiety symptoms as predictor and change in cognitive scores as outcome. Differences of associations by age and gender were studied with three-way interactions.
RESULTS: Higher anxiety symptoms were significantly associated with more decline in verbal memory in those aged 65 years and older (delayed recall: χ2 = 9.30, df = 2, p = 0.01; immediate recall: χ2 = 11.81, df = 2, p = 0.003). There were sex differences in executive function (χ2 = 6.63, df = 2, p = 0.036), fluency (χ2 = 6.89, df = 2, p = 0.032), and processing speed (χ2 = 8.83, df = 2, p = 0.012), with lower performance in women over time.
CONCLUSION: In participants without cognitive impairments at baseline, anxiety symptoms were associated with a decline in verbal memory in older adults and with poorer performance in nonamnestic domains in women. Adequate treatment of anxiety symptoms could have a beneficial influence on the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. Further research is needed to elucidate whether this association is causal.
- MEMORY DECLINE
- NORMATIVE DATA
- PARTICIPANTS AGED 24-81
- executive function