Parental Death and Cognitive Impairment: An Examination by Gender and Race-Ethnicity

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2022 Jun 1;77(6):1164-1176. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbab125.

Abstract

Objectives: We provide the first nationally representative longitudinal study of cognitive impairment in relation to parental death from childhood through early adulthood, midlife, and later adulthood, with attention to heterogeneity in the experience of parental death.

Methods: We analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study (2000-2016). The sample included 13,392 respondents, contributing 72,860 person-periods. Cognitive impairment was assessed using the modified version of the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status. Discrete-time hazard regression models were estimated to predict the odds of cognitive impairment.

Results: Both exposure and timing of parental death were related to the risk of cognitive impairment in late life and associations vary by gender. The detrimental effect of a father's death was comparable for daughters and sons although exposure to a mother's death had stronger effects on daughter's than son's risk of cognitive impairment. Father's death at younger ages had the strongest effect on sons' late-life risk of cognitive impairment, whereas mother's death in middle adulthood had the strongest effect on daughters' risk. We found no significant racial-ethnic variation in the association between parental death and cognitive impairment.

Discussion: It is important to explore the gender-specific pathways through which parental death leads to increased risk of cognitive impairment so that effective interventions can be implemented to reduce risk.

Keywords: Cognitive impairment; Gender; Parental death; Race–ethnicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / diagnosis
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Parental Death*
  • Retirement