Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Unhappiness, health and cognitive ability in old age

  • P. Rabbitt (a1) (a2), M. Lunn (a3), S. Ibrahim (a4), M. Cobain (a5) and L. McInnes (a6)...

To test whether scores on depression inventories on entry to a longitudinal study predict mental ability over the next 4–16 years.


Associations between scores on the Beck Depression Inventory and on tests of intelligence, vocabulary and memory were analysed in 5070 volunteers aged 49–93 years after differences in prescribed drug consumption, death and drop-out, sex, socio-economic advantage and recruitment cohort effects had also been considered.


On all cognitive tasks Beck scores on entry, even in the range 0–7 indicating differences in above average contentment, affected overall levels of cognitive performance but not rates of age-related cognitive decline suggesting effects of differences in life satisfaction rather than in depression.


A new finding is that, in old age, increments in life satisfaction are associated with better cognitive performance. Implications for interpreting associations between depression inventory scores and cognitive performance in elderly samples are discussed.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Professor P. Rabbitt, Department of Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK. (Email:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

KJ Anstey , MA Luszcz , LC Giles , GR Andrews (2001). Demographic, health, cognitive and sensory variables as predictors of mortality in very old adults. Psychology and Aging 16, 311.

M-P Austin , P Mitchell , GM Goodwin (2001). Cognitive deficits in depression. British Journal of Psychiatry 178, 200206.

SS Bassuk , LF Berkman , D Wypij (1998). Depressive symptomatology and incident cognitive decline in an elderly community sample. Archives of General Psychiatry 55, 10731081.

AT Beck , CH Ward , M Mendelson , J Mock , TG Erbaugh (1961). An inventory for measuring depression. Archives of General Psychiatry 4, 561571.

HC Comijs , C Jonker , ATF Beekman , DJD Deeg (2001). The association between depressive symptoms and cognitive decline in community-dwelling elderly. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 16, 361367.

SS Dikmen , RK Heaton , I Grant , NR Temkin (1999). Test-re-test reliability and practice effects of expanded Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological Test Battery. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society 5, 346356.

C Dufouil , R Fuhrer , J-F Dartigues , A Alperovitch (1996). Longitudinal analysis of the association between depressive symptomatology and cognitive deterioration. American Journal of Epidemiology 144, 634641.

RA Griffiths , WR Good , NP Watson , HF O'Donnell , PJ Fell , JM Shakespear (1987). Depression, dementia and disability in the elderly. British Journal of Psychiatry 150, 482493.

M Mitrushina , P Satz (1991). Effect of repeated administration of a neuropsychological test battery in the elderly. Journal of Clinical Psychology 47, 790801.

MH Nagi , EG Stockwell (1973). Socioeconomic differentials in mortality by cause of death. Health Services Reports 88, 449456.

S Norman , AI Troester , JA Fields , R Brooks (2002). Effects of depression and Parkinson's Disease on cognitive function. Journal of Neuropsychology and Clinical Neurosciences 14, 3136.

AM Paola , AI Troster , JJ Ryan (1997). Test-retest stability of the Californian Verbal Learning Test in older persons. Neuropsychology 11, 613616.

P Rabbitt , P Diggle , F Holland , L McInnes (2004). Practice and drop-out effects during a 17-year longitudinal study of cognitive aging. Journal of Gerontology 59B, P84P97.

P Rabbitt , P Diggle , D Smith , F Holland , L McInnes (2001). Identifying and separating the effects of practice and of cognitive aging during a large longitudinal study of elderly community residents. Neuropsychologia 39, 532543.

P Rabbitt , C Donlan , P Watson , L McInnes , N Bent (1995). Unique and interactive effects of depression, age, socioeconomic advantage, and gender on cognitive performance of normal healthy older people. Psychology and Aging 10, 307313.

P Rabbitt , M Lunn , D Wong (2005). Neglect of dropout underestimates effects of death in longitudinal studies. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 60, P106P109.

DA Snowden , SK Ostwald , REL Kane , NL Keenan (1989). Years of life with good and poor mental and physical function in the elderly. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 42, 10551066.

JM Unger , G van Belle , A Heyman (1999). Cross-sectional versus longitudinal estimates of cognitive change in non-demented older people: a CERAD study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 47, 559563.

LJ Whalley , IJ Deary (2001). Longitudinal cohort study of childhood IQ and survival up to age 76. British Medical Journal 322, 819.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 5
Total number of PDF views: 12 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 120 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 27th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.