Cognitive function associated with different diagnoses of anxiety disorders over the lifespan: Results from a Spanish representative sample

J Anxiety Disord. 2020 Oct;75:102296. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102296. Epub 2020 Aug 20.


Background: Previous research suggests an association between anxiety disorders and worse cognitive function. However, this association may vary depending on the type of disorder and age. We analysed the association of panic attack, 12-month and lifetime panic disorder (PD), and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), with cognitive function in a representative sample of Spanish adults, and compared three age groups (18-49, 50-64, and 65+).

Methods: Some 4,582 participants were interviewed with an adapted CIDI interview. Unadjusted and adjusted linear regression models were calculated by age group, using T scores of verbal fluency and episodic memory as the outcomes.

Results: In young adults, 12-month GAD was associated with significantly lower scores of memory performance and verbal fluency, and 12-month PD with worse verbal fluency. In middle-aged participants, lifetime panic attack was related to better performance in verbal fluency, whereas having a diagnosis of lifetime PD was associated with lower scores. However, only participants aged 18-49 with 12-month GAD showed lower memory and verbal fluency, at almost one standard deviation below participants without 12-month GAD.

Limitations: Low prevalence rates of anxiety disorder could have led to biased results.

Conclusions: In young adults, a concurrent GAD might be particularly associated with memory and verbal fluency deficits, whereas only verbal fluency is affected in middle-aged adults with a history of PD, although this association is small. In older adults, anxiety disorders are not clearly associated with worse cognition, probably because in this age group other confounder variables might be attenuating this link. Overall, our findings suggest that cognitive interventions for anxiety disorders may be relevant, especially for young and middle-aged adults.

Keywords: cognitive performance; early adulthood; generalized anxiety disorder; middle-aged adults; older adults; panic disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Longevity*
  • Memory
  • Middle Aged
  • Panic Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Panic Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Young Adult