Symptoms of anxiety and depression are common in older people, but the relative importance of factors operating in early and later life in influencing risk is unclear, particularly in the case of anxiety.
We used data from five cohorts in the Healthy Ageing across the Life Course (HALCyon) collaborative research programme: the Aberdeen Birth Cohort 1936, the Caerphilly Prospective Study, the Hertfordshire Ageing Study, the Hertfordshire Cohort Study and the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921. We used logistic regression to examine the relationship between factors from early and later life and risk of anxiety or depression, defined as scores of 8 or more on the subscales of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, and meta-analysis to obtain an overall estimate of the effect of each.
Greater neuroticism, poorer cognitive or physical function, greater disability and taking more medications were associated in cross-sectional analyses with an increased overall likelihood of anxiety or depression. Associations between lower social class, either in childhood or currently, history of heart disease, stroke or diabetes and increased risk of anxiety or depression were attenuated and no longer statistically significant after adjustment for potential confounding or mediating variables. There was no association between birth weight and anxiety or depression in later life.
Anxiety and depression in later life are both strongly linked to personality, cognitive and physical function, disability and state of health, measured concurrently. Possible mechanisms that might underlie these associations are discussed.