Spousal loss and change in cognitive functioning: An examination of temporal patterns and gender differences

Jonathan Wörn, Hannie Comijs, Marja Aartsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives: The study investigates whether the disadvantaged position of men in the adverse consequences of widowhood for health and mortality also exists for changes in cognitive health. Methods: We used data of up to 1,269 men and women aged 65 years and older who participated in the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam in 3-yearly assessments between 1992 and 2012 (5,123 person-observations). All were married and without cognitive impairment (Mini-Mental State Examination ≥ 24) at baseline and up to 419 lost their spouse. In fixed effects regression models, the effect of spousal loss on change in four domains of cognitive functioning was estimated independently of age-related cognitive change. Results: For women, a robust temporary decrease was found in the second year after spousal loss in the reasoning domain, but not in global cognitive functioning, processing speed, or memory. No robust effects were found for men. Discussion: Considering that only one cognitive domain was affected and effects were temporary, cognitive functioning seems rather robust to the experience of spousal loss. Despite men having often been reported to be in a disadvantaged position in other health domains, our analyses indicate no such pattern for cognitive functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-206
Number of pages12
JournalJournals of Gerontology. Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number1
Early online date14 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

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