Graduation Year

2005

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Aging Studies

Major Professor

Brent J. Small, Ph.D.

Keywords

Cognition, Aging, Life events, Bereavement, Allostatic load

Abstract

The current dissertation sought to examine stress in three different, but overlapping, ways. The first study examined how self-reported negative life events, in the aggregate and individually, are associated with cognitive performance. The results suggested that there was no significant relationship between the aggregate measures of self-reported negative life events and cognitive performance. On the other hand, several individual negative life events were associated with cognitive functioning. The findings support previous research indicating that using estimates of individual stressors rather than aggregate measures of stressors increases the predictive validity of stress measurement. The second study assessed the cross-sectional and longitudinal effects of bereavement on cognitive functioning. The cross-sectional results revealed that bereavement status alone was not associated with cognitive performance.

On the other hand, there were several significant interactions between bereavement status and the background characteristics. The longitudinal results revealed that the bereaved individuals declined on the delayed naming recall task and there was a significant interaction between gender and bereavement on the delayed story recall task. Our results support the finding that bereavement is associated with poorer cognitive performance within certain subgroups (i.e., males and the young-old participants). The third and final study examined the effects of allostatic load (AL) on cognitive performance in bereaved and non-bereaved individuals over a twelve-month period post-bereavement. The cross-sectional findings suggested that the overall AL measure, the syndrome X (a collection of cardiovascular risk factors) and non-syndrome X measures (stress hormones), and the individual AL markers were associated with cognitive performance.

Longitudinally, we were unable to find an association between the overall AL measure and cognitive performance. Taken together, the current findings suggest that there is an association between the multiple stress factors under investigation and cognitive performance. The cross-sectional results revealed that the individual negative life events (i.e., having less money to live on), bereavement, and the AL markers were associated with poorer cognitive performance. Furthermore, the results suggest that utilizing the individual life events and AL markers may be more informative when assessing cognitive functioning in the current samples compared to using the sum scores.

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