Background: Cognitive assessment of older persons, particularly those with impairment, is hampered by measurement error and the ethical issues of testing people with dementia. A potential source of valuable information about end-of-life cognitive status can be gained from those who knew the respondent well – mostly relatives or friends. This study tested the association between last cognitive assessment before death and a retrospective informant assessment of cognition.
Methods: Data were analyzed from 248 participants from the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study who were aged 71 to 102 years at death. Late-life cognition was assessed 0 to 8 years before death using the Mini-mental State Examination (MMSE) and the informant measure was taken 0 to 7 years after death using a Retrospective Informant Interview (RInI).
Results: Zero-inflated Poisson regression showed a strong association between MMSE scores and RInI scores – those scoring 29–30 on the MMSE had a RInI score four times lower than those who scored <18 (p < 0.001). The time between MMSE and death was also a significant predictor with each additional year increasing RInI scores by 12.4% (p < 0.001). The time between death and RInI was only a significant predictor when including measures that were taken four years or more after death.
Conclusions: Cognitive scores from retrospective informant interviews are strongly associated with late-life MMSE scores taken close to death. This suggests that the RInI can be used as a proxy measure of cognition in the period leading up to death.