Association of Stress With Cognitive Function Among Older Black and White US Adults

JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Mar 1;6(3):e231860. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.1860.


Importance: Perceived stress can have long-term physiological and psychological consequences and has shown to be a modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer disease and related dementias.

Objective: To investigate the association between perceived stress and cognitive impairment in a large cohort study of Black and White participants aged 45 years or older.

Design, setting, and participants: The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study is a national population-based cohort of 30 239 Black and White participants aged 45 years or older, sampled from the US population. Participants were recruited from 2003 to 2007, with ongoing annual follow-up. Data were collected by telephone, self-administered questionnaires, and an in-home examination. Statistical analysis was performed from May 2021 to March 2022.

Exposures: Perceived stress was measured using the 4-item version of the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale. It was assessed at the baseline visit and during 1 follow-up visit.

Main outcomes and measures: Cognitive function was assessed with the Six-Item Screener (SIS); participants with a score below 5 were considered to have cognitive impairment. Incident cognitive impairment was defined as a shift from intact cognition (SIS score >4) at the first assessment to impaired cognition (SIS score ≤4) at the latest available assessment.

Results: The final analytical sample included 24 448 participants (14 646 women [59.9%]; median age, 64 years [range, 45-98 years]; 10 177 Black participants [41.6%] and 14 271 White participants [58.4%]). A total of 5589 participants (22.9%) reported elevated levels of stress. Elevated levels of perceived stress (dichotomized as low stress vs elevated stress) were associated with 1.37 times higher odds of poor cognition after adjustment for sociodemographic variables, cardiovascular risk factors, and depression (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 1.37; 95% CI, 1.22-1.53). The association of the change in the Perceived Stress Scale score with incident cognitive impairment was significant in both the unadjusted model (OR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.46-1.80) and after adjustment for sociodemographic variables, cardiovascular risk factors, and depression (AOR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.22-1.58). There was no interaction with age, race, and sex.

Conclusions and relevance: This study suggests that there is an independent association between perceived stress and both prevalent and incident cognitive impairment. The findings suggest the need for regular screening and targeted interventions for stress among older adults.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Black or African American
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress, Psychological* / epidemiology
  • United States
  • White