Objectives: Low and middle income nations will experience an unprecedented growth of the elderly population and subsequent increase in age-related neurological disorders. Worldwide prevalence and incidence of all-types of neurological disorders with serious mental health complications will increase with life expectancy across the globe. Onein- ten individuals over 75 has at least moderate cognitive impairment. Prevalence of cognitive impairment doubles every 5 years thereafter. Latin America’s population of older adult’s 65 years and older is growing rapidly, yet little is known about cognitive aging among healthy older Latinos. Clinically significant depressive symptomatology is common among community-dwelling older adults and is associated with deficits across multiple cognitive domains, however much of the literature has not modeled the unique effects of depression distinct from negative and low positive affect. Our objective was to understand how mental health affects cognitive health in healthy aging Latinos.
Methods: The present study used confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and structural equation modeling (SEM) to examine the relative effects of Negative Affect, Positive Affect and Geriatric Depression on Verbal Memory, Verbal Reasoning, Processing Speed, and Working Memory in healthy aging Latinos. Data was collected from a sample of healthy community dwelling older adults living in San Jose, Costa Rica. Modeling of latent variables attenuated error and improved measurement reliability of cognition, affect, and depression variables.
Results: Costa Ricans enjoy a notoriety for being much happier than US citizens and are renowned as one of the happiest nations in the world in global surveys. This was born out in these data. Costa Rican affective profiles differed substantively from US profiles. Levels of negative affect and depression were similar to US samples, but their levels of positive affect were much higher. Cognitive performance of these Costa Rican older adults was similar to USage and education matched peers. CFA and SEM found that increased depressive symptomatology had deleterious effects on Working Memory made up of subtest scores sampling simple attention and vigilance for numbers. Verbal Memory, Verbal Reasoning, and Processing Speed were not affected by self-reported Positive Affect, Negative Affect or Depressive symptoms.
Conclusion: Costa Rican older adults were happy, as evidenced by the high ratio of positive affect to relatively low negative affect. Thus, we were somewhat surprised to find that depressive symptoms were selectively correlated to decrements in working memory and that negative and positive affect contributed negligible amounts of variance to any of the cognitive factors. Because of the methodological rigor of latent variable analysis, these results are very specific. The Working Memory factor is not contaminated with Speed of Processing or other measured cognitive factors. Likewise, the measured Geriatric Depression represents symptoms that are richly cognitive, not overtly affective.