Background Recurrent affective problems are predictive of cognitive impairment, but the timing and directionality, and the nature of the cognitive impairment, are unclear.
Aims To test prospective associations between life-course affective symptoms and cognitive function in late middle age.
Method A total of 1668 men and women were drawn from the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (the British 1946 birth cohort). Longitudinal affective symptoms spanning age 13-53 years served as predictors; outcomes consisted of self-reported memory problems at 60-64 years and decline in memory and information processing from age 53 to 60-64 years.
Results Regression analyses revealed no clear pattern of association between longitudinal affective symptoms and decline in cognitive test scores, after adjusting for gender, childhood cognitive ability, education and midlife socioeconomic status. In contrast, affective symptoms were strongly, diffusely and independently associated with self-reported memory problems. Conclusions Affective symptoms are more clearly associated with self-reported memory problems in late midlife than with objectively measured cognitive performance.