Poorer mental health is associated with cognitive deficits in old age

Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn. 2015;22(1):95-105. doi: 10.1080/13825585.2014.893554. Epub 2014 Mar 7.


Few studies have examined the association between within-person (WP) reaction time (RT) variability and mental health (depression, anxiety, and social dysphoria) in old age. Therefore, we investigated mental health (using the General Health Questionnaire) and cognitive function (mean RT or WP variability) in 257 healthy, community-dwelling adults aged 50-90 years (M = 63.60). The cognitive domains assessed were psychomotor performance, executive function, visual search, and recognition. Structural equation models revealed that for WP variability, but not mean RT, poorer mental health was associated with visual search and immediate recognition deficits in older persons and that these relationships were partially mediated by executive function. The dissociation between mean RT and WP variability provides evidence that the latter measure may be particularly sensitive to the subtle effects of mental health on cognitive function in old age.

Keywords: GHQ; age; cognitive function; mental health; within-person variability.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Behavioral Symptoms / diagnosis
  • Behavioral Symptoms / epidemiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires