Objectives: This study investigates whether, and if so how, anxiety symptoms are related to cognitive decline in elderly persons and whether anxiety symptoms precede cognitive decline.
Method: Data were obtained from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam. Anxiety symptoms were measured with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. General cognitive functioning was measured with the Mini-Mental State Examination, episodic memory with the Auditory Verbal Learning Test, fluid intelligence with the Raven's Coloured Progressive Matrices and information processing speed with the coding task. Multilevel analyses were performed to investigate the relationship between anxiety symptoms and cognitive decline over 9 years, taking into account confounding variables.
Results: Although not consistent across all dimensions of cognitive functioning, a curvilinear effect of anxiety on cognitive performance was found. Furthermore, we found that previous measurement of anxiety symptoms were not predictive of cognitive decline at a later time-point.
Conclusion: This study suggests that the effect of anxiety on cognition depends on the severity of the present anxiety symptoms with mild anxiety associated with better cognition, whereas more severe anxiety is associated with worse cognition. The effect of anxiety symptoms on cognitive functioning seems to be a temporary effect, anxiety is not predictive of cognitive decline.