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Mediators and Moderators of the Association Between Perceived Stress and Episodic Memory in Diverse Older Adults

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 December 2020

Afsara B. Zaheed*
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, MI48109, USA
Neika Sharifian
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, MI48109, USA
A. Zarina Kraal
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, MI48109, USA
Ketlyne Sol
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, MI48109, USA
Jennifer J. Manly
Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain, Columbia University Medical Center, 710 West 168th Street, 3rd floor, New York, NY10032, USA
Nicole Schupf
Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain, Columbia University Medical Center, 710 West 168th Street, 3rd floor, New York, NY10032, USA
Adam M. Brickman
Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain, Columbia University Medical Center, 710 West 168th Street, 3rd floor, New York, NY10032, USA
Laura B. Zahodne
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, MI48109, USA
*Correspondence and reprint requests to: Afsara B. Zaheed, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, MI48109, USA. E-mail:



Stress is a risk factor for numerous negative health outcomes, including cognitive impairment in late-life. The negative association between stress and cognition may be mediated by depressive symptoms, which separate studies have identified as both a consequence of perceived stress and a risk factor for cognitive decline. Pathways linking perceived stress, depressive symptoms, and cognition may be moderated by sociodemographics and psychosocial resources. The goal of this cross-sectional study was to identify modifying factors and enhance understanding of the mechanisms underlying the stress–cognition association in a racially and ethnically diverse sample of older adults.


A linear regression estimated the association between perceived stress and episodic memory in 578 older adults (Mage = 74.58) in the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project. Subsequent models tested whether depressive symptoms mediated the stress–memory relationship and whether sociodemographics (gender, race, and ethnicity) or perceived control moderated these pathways.


Independent of sociodemographics and chronic diseases, greater perceived stress was associated with worse episodic memory. This relationship was mediated by more depressive symptoms. Higher perceived control buffered the association between stress and depressive symptoms. There was no significant moderation by gender, race, or ethnicity.


Depressive symptoms may play a role in the negative association between perceived stress and cognition among older adults; however, longitudinal analyses and studies using experimental designs are needed. Perceived control is a modifiable psychological resource that may offset the negative impact of stress.

Regular Research
Copyright © INS. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2020

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