ISR Awards

Life Events, Depression, and Cognition in Older Age: An Intraindividual Approach

Decades of research have linked stressful life events to adverse mental health (e.g., depression) and cognitive outcomes. While research has documented the adverse effects of life events depressive symptoms and cognitive function, less research has explicitly examined such links among older adults, and from an intraindividual (within-person) perspective. Understanding the distribution, occurrence, and timing of life events among older adults, and how these events predict depressive symptoms and cognitive function over time represents a critical challenge for research on stress in aging. Knowing the types, frequency, and timing of life events that older adults experience as they age will provide better insight into their lives and the contextual factors that influence their mental and cognitive health. Furthermore, longitudinal investigations will provide insight into links between life events, depressive symptoms, and cognitive function within-persons over time, and aging-related vulnerability to the influence of life events. Our project draws on longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally-representative study of older adults (age 50+). Specifically, we will use data from the initial HRS cohort (ages 50-60, born 1921-1941) and Assets and Health Dynamics among the Oldest Old (AHEAD) cohort (age 70+, born before 1923), who have provided up to 18-years of biannual longitudinal data through 2010. The design of HRS will allow tracking of life events among older adults longitudinally, as well as modeling associations among life events, depressive symptoms, and cognitive function within-persons over time, to examine concurrent and lagged effects of life events. This study will address three aims: Aim 1 examines the occurrence and timing of life events among older adults; Aim 2 examines the proximal, prospective, and cumulative effects of life events on depressive symptoms and cognitive function; and Aim 3 examines aging-related vulnerability to the effect of life events on depressive symptoms and cognitive function. The significance of this study lies in understanding: 1) the occurrence and timing of life events throughout old age; 2) the proximal, prospective and cumulative effects of life events on depressive symptoms and cognitive function; and 3) aging-related vulnerability to life events. Areas of innovation include: 1) a novel use of large-scale nationally representative survey data to track the experience of life events; 2) the use of longitudinal data to elucidate proximal, prospective, and cumulative effects of life events on depressive symptoms and cognitive function in old age; and 3) the use of analytic techniques for explicitly examining intraindividual associations among life events, depressive symptoms and cognitive function within-person associations over time. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: The impact of the proposed research derives from improving our understanding of the life events experienced by older adults and their effects on mental and cognitive health. Identifying the types and timing of life events older adults experience will directly inform intervention and prevention strategies to promote healthy aging.