Perceptions of memory problems are more important in predicting distress in older adults with subjective memory complaints than coping strategies

Catherine S Hurt, Alistair Burns, Christine Barrowclough
International Psychogeriatrics 2011, 23 (8): 1334-43

BACKGROUND: There is a high prevalence of subjective memory complaints (SMCs) amongst older adults, many of whom experience significant distress. It remains unclear why some older adults with SMCs experience more distress than others. The Common Sense Model of Illness Perceptions has been used to explain patients' differential response to illness based on the beliefs they hold about their illness and subsequent selection of coping strategies. The present study aimed to examine the role of perceptions and coping styles in predicting anxiety and depression in older adults with SMCs.

METHODS: 98 participants with SMCs completed the Illness Perception Questionnaire for Memory Problems (IPQ-M), Ways of Coping Questionnaire (WCQ), Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) and Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI). Multiple regression analysis was used to determine the contribution of illness perceptions and coping to the explanation of variance in depression and anxiety.

RESULTS: Perceptions of SMCs were found to predict both depression and anxiety while coping strategies did not. Perceptions of serious consequences of SMCs and causal attributions predicted greater depression, while attribution of memory problems to lack of blood to the brain was the only predictor of increased anxiety.

CONCLUSIONS: Illness perceptions predicted depression and anxiety in older adults with SMCs. Contrary to the Common-Sense Model coping style was not found to be an important determinant of psychological distress. The findings provide a basis for developing interventions to reduce psychological distress in older adults with subjective memory complaints. Targeting causal attributions and perceived consequences of SMCs may help to improve well-being.

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