Depressive Symptoms Imputed Across the Life Course Are Associated with Cognitive Impairment and Cognitive Decline

J Alzheimers Dis. 2021;83(3):1379-1389. doi: 10.3233/JAD-210588.


Background: Depressive symptoms may increase risk for dementia, but findings are controversial because late-life depression may be a prodromal dementia symptom. Life course data on depression and dementia risk may clarify this association; however, data is limited.

Objective: To impute adult depressive symptoms trajectories across adult life stages and estimate the association with cognitive impairment and decline.

Methods: Using a pooled study of 4 prospective cohorts (ages 20-89), we imputed adult life course depressive symptoms trajectories based on Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale-10 (CESD-10) and calculated time-weighted averages for early adulthood (ages 20-49), mid-life (ages 50-69), and late-life (ages 70-89) for 6,122 older participants. Adjusted pooled logistic and mixed-effects models estimated associations of imputed depressive symptoms with two cognitive outcomes: cognitive impairment defined by established criteria and a composite cognitive score.

Results: In separate models, elevated depressive symptoms in each life stage were associated with cognitive outcomes: early adulthood OR for cognitive impairment = 1.59 (95%CI: 1.35,1.87); mid-life OR = 1.94 (95%CI:1.16, 3.26); and late-life OR = 1.77 (95%CI:1.42, 2.21). When adjusted for depressive symptoms in the other life-stages, elevated depressive symptoms in early adulthood (OR = 1.73; 95%CI: 1.42,2.11) and late-life (OR = 1.43; 95%CI: 1.08,1.89) remained associated with cognitive impairment and were also associated with faster rates of cognitive decline (p < 0.05).

Conclusion: Imputing depressive symptom trajectories from pooled cohorts may help expand data across the life course. Our findings suggest early adulthood depressive symptoms may be a risk factor for cognitive impairment independent of mid- or late-life depressive symptoms.

Keywords: Cognitive impairment; dementia; depression; imputation; life course.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Depression / complications*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prodromal Symptoms*
  • Risk Factors

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