Bhang I, Mogle J, Hill N, Whitaker EB, Bhargava S. Examining the temporal associations between self-reported memory problems and depressive symptoms in older adults. Aging Ment Health. 2020 Nov;24(11):1864-71. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2019.1647135

OBJECTIVES: Older adults commonly report problems with their memory which can elicit sadness and worry about future development of cognitive impairment. Conversely, ongoing depressive symptoms can negatively impact older adults' perceptions of their memory performance. The current study examined the longitudinal associations between self-reported memory problems and depressive symptoms to explore which symptom tends to appear first.

METHOD: Two datasets from ongoing observational, longitudinal studies of aging (Memory and Aging Project; Minority Aging Research Study) were used for secondary analyses. Older adults (n=1,724; Mage = 77.03; SD = 7.54; 76.80% female; 32.26% Black) completed up to 18 annual assessments of self-reported memory (two items: perceived decline in memory and frequency of memory problems) and depressive symptoms. Multilevel models were used to examine intra-individual variability and time-lagged relationships between self-reported memory and depressive symptoms.

RESULTS: Concurrently, self-reported memory problems and depressive symptoms were significantly related; at times when older adults reported poorer memory, they also reported more depressive symptoms, regardless of the type of memory self-report. Prospectively, perceived memory decline predicted future depressive symptoms, but depressive symptoms did not predict future reports of memory decline. Self-reported frequency of memory problems did not predict future depressive symptoms or vice versa.

CONCLUSION: The current study's findings suggest a temporal relationship between perceived memory decline and depressive symptoms, such that perceived memory decline can lead to future depressive symptoms. These findings can inform future studies focused on developing a standardized assessment of self-reported memory that is separable from depressive symptoms.

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