Subjective forgetfulness is associated with lower quality of life in middle aged and young-old individuals

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Aging & Mental Health

Subjective forgetfulness is associated with lower quality of life in middle aged and young-old individuals: A 9-year follow-up in older participants from the Maastricht Aging Study

Objectives: Many people regard themselves as being forgetful. They may be hindered by or worried about this subjective forgetfulness in daily life. The first aim of the present study was to determine whether perceived forgetfulness in healthy older adults is related to a lower quality of life. The second objective was to assess whether the association between perceived forgetfulness and quality of life changes over a 9-year follow-up period.

Method: A group of 412 participants in the longitudinal Maastricht Aging Study, aged 54 years or older, were interviewed and tested at baseline, 3, 6, and 9 years. Four proxy measures of quality of life were studied; satisfaction with life, mental well-being, and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Results: Results showed that subjective forgetfulness was associated with a lower quality of life. In addition, in individuals considering themselves forgetful, a significant increase was found in symptoms of anxiety, compared to those who had no perceived forgetfulness. The relation between perceived forgetfulness and decreased satisfaction with life was stronger in younger (54–69 years) than in older participants (70–91 years). Conclusion: The observation that perceived forgetfulness and reduced quality of life are related and that this relation persists over time demonstrates the relevance of subjective forgetfulness for daily life functioning, particularly in relatively young subjects.

Many people consider themselves being forgetful. For example, the overall prevalence of perceived forgetfulness in 1971 volunteers aged between 25 and 85 in the Maastricht Aging Study was 40% (Ponds, Commissaris, & Jolles, 1997).

Approximately 60% of forgetful middle-aged indivi- duals reported much hindrance from their forgetfulness in their daily lives, and approximately 70% of these individuals indicated that they were quite worried about their forgetfulness (Commissaris, Ponds, & Jolles, 1998). In addition, 25% of the individuals with per- ceived forgetfulness were interested in ways to improve their memory (Mol, de Groot, Willems, & Jolles, 2006a).

There is but a small number of studies in which the relation between subjective memory complaints and quality of life in older people has been studied (Bazargan & Bazargan, 1997; Commissaris et al., 1998; Derouesne ́ et al., 1989; Derouesne ́ , Lacomblex, Thibault, & LePoncin, 1999; Verhaeghen, Geraerts, & Marcoen, 2000). These studies indeed suggested an association between subjective forgetfulness and a lower quality of life. Two studies of Derousne ́ et al. (1989, 1999) showed a significantly negative correlation between memory complaints and scores on the Well- being Questionnaire. Commissaris et al. (1998) found that forgetful participants aged between 25 and 85 were less satisfied with life, as measured with the Satisfaction with Life Scale. Furthermore, Bazargan and Bazargan (1997) found in 998 p
It has been shown that forgetfulness is appreciated differently by older indivi- duals, who perceive their forgetfulness as being ‘part of the aging process,’ other than younger individuals, who attribute forgetfulness more often to causes such as stress, work-related factors, or emotional problems (Commissaris et al., 1998; Ponds et al., 1997). Global differences between age groups were also studied by Derouesne ́ et al. (1999), who showed that memory complaints in individuals under 50 were specifically related to depressive symptoms, while memory complaints in individuals above 50 were related to both depression and well-being. In the present study we set out to make a further differenti- ation of age groups.

Feelings of depression or anxiety were measured with two subscales of the Symptom Checklist (SCL-90; Derogatis, 1977), Dutch version (Arrindell & Ettema, 1986). The SCL-90 is a multidimensional self-report inventory of psychopathology. Scores for the anxiety subscale range from 0 to 50, with a higher score indicating more symptoms of anxiety. Scores for the depression subscale range between 0 and 80, where a higher score indicates more depressive symptoms.
The results show that perceived forgetfulness was significantly related to lower satisfaction with life, lower mental well-being, and to an increased number of symptoms of depression and anxiety.

As for symptoms of anxiety, a main effect of forgetfulness and a significant interaction term age by forgetfulness were found in both age groups. In addition, in forgetful individuals the number of reported symptoms of anxiety increased more each year when compared with nonforgetful individuals.
It has been previously shown that relatively younger people tend to ascribe their perceived forgetfulness to tension and emotional problems, lack of interest, and poor concentration (Commissaris et al., 1998; Ponds et al., 1997). Older people, on the other hand, believe that their forgetfulness is due to causes, which are less manageable and more or less irreversible. The factors ‘aging’ and ‘always had a poor memory’ are often mentioned in this respect (Commissaris et al., 1998; Ponds et al., 1997).

The subjective forgetfulness can be said to reduce a person’s functioning, and thus exert a continuing impact on a person’s daily life. Our results suggest that if forgetfulness persists over the years, it can increase the feelings of anxiety.

In conclusion, the present study used data from a large longitudinal population-based sample. The data collected at four time points over a period of 9 years showed a relation between perceived forgetfulness and four aspects of quality of life. The relation between subjective forgetfulness and satisfaction with life was stronger in younger individuals than in older individuals. Furthermore, when perceived forgetfulness continued to be present over time, symptoms of anxiety increased. Our findings underscore the potential impact of perceived forgetfulness on a person’s daily life, especially in middle-aged and young-old individuals. Tailored intervention strategies aimed at reducing perceived forgetfulness and at strengthening of strategies to cope with decreased memory functioning, particularly in younger old individuals, may prove to be beneficial by improving feelings of control and thereby improving quality of life.

Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

Martine E. M. Mola; Martin P. J. van Boxtela; Dick Willemsa; Frans R. J. Verheya; Jelle Jollesa
a Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, Maastricht University, School for Mental Health and Neuroscience (MHeNS)/European Graduate School of Neuroscience (Euron), The Netherlands
Online publication date: 27 August 2010

To cite this Article Mol, Martine E. M. , van Boxtel, Martin P. J. , Willems, Dick , Verhey, Frans R. J. and Jolles, Jelle(2009) ‘Subjective forgetfulness is associated with lower quality of life in middle-aged and young-old individuals: A 9-year follow-up in older participants from the Maastricht Aging Study’, Aging & Mental Health, 13: 5, 699 — 705

To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/13607860902845541 URL: