Lifetime affect and midlife cognitive function: prospective birth cohort study
M. Richards, J. H. Barnett, M. K. Xu, T. J. Croudace, D. Gaysina, D. Kuh, P. B. Jones, the MRC National Survey of Health and Development scientific and data collection team
  • Declaration of interest

    P.B.J. has received research grant support from GlaxoSmithKline, a speaker’s honorarium from Eli Lilly and is a co-inventor of patent PCT/GB2005/003279 (methods for assessing psychotic disorders). J.H.B. is an employee of Cambridge Cognition Ltd, and is a co-inventor of patent PCT/GB2005/003279 (methods for assessing psychotic disorders).



Recurrent affective problems are predictive of cognitive impairment, but the timing and directionality, and the nature of the cognitive impairment, are unclear.


To test prospective associations between life-course affective symptoms and cognitive function in late middle age.


A total of 1668 men and women were drawn from the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (the British 1946 birth cohort). Longitudinal affective symptoms spanning age 13-53 years served as predictors; outcomes consisted of self-reported memory problems at 60-64 years and decline in memory and information processing from age 53 to 60-64 years.


Regression analyses revealed no clear pattern of association between longitudinal affective symptoms and decline in cognitive test scores, after adjusting for gender, childhood cognitive ability, education and midlife socioeconomic status. In contrast, affective symptoms were strongly, diffusely and independently associated with self-reported memory problems.


Affective symptoms are more clearly associated with self-reported memory problems in late midlife than with objectively measured cognitive performance.


  • Funding

    This study was sponsored by Wellcome Trust grant 088869/B/09/Z, the UK MRC and the UK Department of Health (National Institute for Health Research).

Royal College of Psychiatrists, This paper accords with the Wellcome Trust Open Access policy and is governed by the licence available at

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