Examination of Intrapersonal Characteristics Associated with Cognitive Function Among Older Adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline

Farias Tomaszewski Farias, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, United States
Yichu Chen, University of California, Davis, Davis, United States
Danielle Harvey, University of California, Davis, Davis, United States
Jaclyn Fox, University of California, Davis, Davis, United States
Michelle Chan, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, United States
Alyssa Weakley, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, United States
Sudev Namboodiri, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, United States


A variety of intrapersonal characteristics have been shown to increase or decrease risk for cognitive and functional decline among older adults. The purpose of the study was to evaluate a variety of characteristics among older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), itself a known risk factor for future cognitive decline.

Participants and Methods:

Participants included 127 older adults with SCD (age M=73.1, SD=4.9; education M=15.4, SD=2.2; 80% female, 89% White) who were enrolled in an NIH funded randomized controlled trial teaching memory support strategies and healthy lifestyles (R01AG066748). This study utilized baseline data from the trial, prior to the start of the intervention. Primary outcomes included cognitive composites for episodic memory, executive function, processing speed and global cognition as well as a measure of instrumental activities of daily living (IADL). Key independent variables of interest included self-rated positive and negative affect, satisfaction with life, resiliency, life purpose, health literacy, and perceived competence. Linear regression was used to assess associations between key independent variables and each outcome. All models included age, gender, and education. Model building began with simple models including one key independent variable in addition to demographics. A final model for each outcome was then built including all variables that met a trend level association in those models (p<.15). Correlations between independent variables were checked to assess for collinearity, but none was of concern. Model diagnostics were used to assess underlying assumptions. All analyses were conducted in R and a p-value less than 0.05 was considered statistically significant.


A joint model found that higher negative affect (p=.04) and higher perceived competence (p=.05) were both independently associated with lower executive function. Higher negative affect was also associated with a lower processing speed score (p=.005). Similarly, negative affect (p=.01) was associated with worse global cognition. Episodic memory was not significantly associated with any of the key independent variables. For the IADL outcome, positive affect (.001), negative affect (p=.05), resiliency (p=.1) and life purpose (p=.03) were all identified in the initial stage of analyses as having a potential association with IADLs in the presence of demographics. When all four variables were included in a final model, along with demographics, only positive affect (p=.03) remained significantly associated with IADL. Specifically, higher positive affect was associated better IADL scores.


Findings suggest that negative affect was particularly related to worse performance on objective cognitive function, which is generally consistent with previous work that suggests among older adults with SCD, depression may be a major contributor to perceived and objective level of cognitive function. In contrast, greater positive affect was related to better self-reported IADL functioning in this at-risk group of older adults. Positive affect has previously been associated with a host of health outcomes, but to our knowledge this is the first finding showing it may bolster everyday functioning and reduce disability. Findings may have important implications for interventions to bolster cognitive and everyday functioning among older adults with SCD.

Category: Aging

Keyword 1: personality
Keyword 2: everyday functioning
Keyword 3: cognitive functioning