Previous research regarding anxiety as a predictor of future cognitive decline in older adults is limited and inconsistent. We examined the independent relationship between anxiety symptoms and subsequent cognitive decline.
We included 2,818 community-dwelling older men (mean age = 76.1, SD ±5.3 years) who were followed on an average for 3.4 years. We assessed anxiety symptoms at baseline using the Goldberg Anxiety Scale (GAS; range = 0–9). We assessed cognitive function at baseline and at two subsequent visits using the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (3MS; global cognition) and the Trails B test (executive function).
At baseline, there were 690 (24%) men with mild anxiety symptoms (GAS 1–4) and 226 (8%) men with moderate/severe symptoms (GAS 5–9). Men with anxiety symptoms were more likely to have depressed mood, poor sleep, more chronic medical conditions, and more impairment in activities of daily living compared to those with no anxiety symptoms. Compared to those with no anxiety symptoms at baseline, men with any anxiety symptoms were more likely to have substantial worsening in Trails B completion time (OR = 1.56, 95% CI 1.19, 2.05). The association was attenuated after adjusting for potential confounders, including depression and poor sleep, but remained significant (OR = 1.40, 95% CI 1.04, 1.88).
In cognitively healthy older men, mild anxiety symptoms may potentially predict future decline in executive functioning. Anxiety is likely a manifestation of an underlying neurodegenerative process rather than a cause.