The Impact of Psychological and Physiological Variables on Memory Functioning in Mid-life Women

Spooner, Donna (2007). The Impact of Psychological and Physiological Variables on Memory Functioning in Mid-life Women PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, University of Queensland.

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Author Spooner, Donna
Thesis Title The Impact of Psychological and Physiological Variables on Memory Functioning in Mid-life Women
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2007
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Nancy Pachana
Abstract/Summary Factors proposed to influence the memory functioning of mid-life women have been the subject of much investigation over the past 15 years. This has followed from reports that memory difficulties are a common complaint of women around the time of menopause. Many previous studies have focused on the physiological changes that accompany the menopausal years, particularly the decline in estrogen levels, and the resultant effects on neural functioning and cognitive performance. The possible benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on memory functioning has been one key area of research, although there has been much inconsistency in the findings to date. In recent years, the influence of the APOE F4 allele (a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease) on cognitive functioning, and its possible interaction with HRT, has received increased interest. Psychologically-based theories of ageing and memory decline also abound, which have focused on the influence that variables such as self-efficacy and ageing stereotypes have on memory functioning. The current thesis presents a review of the literature on the impact of these physiological and psychological factors on memory performance. Three empirical investigations were conducted, with the aim of determining the effects of specific variables on the memory performance of mid-life women. In Study 1, the effect of HRT on performance of the WMS-III was assessed in a sample of 213 postmenopausal women. Many of the methodological limitations of previous studies were addressed and the test scores of the 95 HRT users were compared to the 118 nonusers. Possible confounding variables, including age, education, predicted premorbid FSIQ, socioeconomic status, climacteric symptoms, and mood were controlled through hierarchical regression analysis. The results indicated that HRT use contributed unique variance to one WMS-III subtest: Spatial Span (p < .05), with the nonusers performing better on this test than the HRT users. This finding shows some consistency with the results of previous studies indicating that lower estrogen levels afford some advantage on tasks with a strong spatial component. Using ANCOVA, no significant interaction was found between HRT use and APOE genotype, indicating that the APOE genotype did not change the association between HRT use and performance of any of the WMS-III subtests or index scores. A major criticism of previous investigations of memory functioning has been the failure of many studies to use ecologically-valid memory tests, which are arguably more relevant to memory in everyday contexts in comparison to their traditional counterparts (e.g. the WMS-III). This criticism was addressed in Study 2, through the use of the Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test – Extended Version (RBMT-E) to assess memory functioning. The effect of HRT on performance of this test was assessed in a sample of 125 postmenopausal women (77 HRT users and 49 nonusers) via a series of hierarchical regression analyses. Following control of relevant confounding variables, HRT use was found to contribute unique variance to one RBMT-E subtest: Orientation and Date (p < .05). ANCOVA analysis revealed no significant interactions between HRT use and APOE genotype. In Study 3, psychologically-based predictors of memory functioning were evaluated in a sample of 269 women (age range 42-76 years). Based on review of the literature to date, a novel model of memory performance was developed which proposed specific relationships between the variables of age, education, memory selfbeliefs, self-efficacy, affect, attitudes towards ageing, ageing stereotypes, and memory performance. Relevant questionnaires were selected to assess these variables, and the RBMT-E was used as the measure of memory performance. The adequacy of the model was assessed using structural equation modeling techniques. Following modifications of the proposed model, a final model emerged that provided a good fit of the data, highlighted the nature of the relationship between the model components, and had theoretical support. The findings of the present investigations highlight the complexity of the study of memory in mid-life women and the need for more research to further elucidate the contributions of both physiological and psychological variables to understanding variability in memory performance.

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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 15:36:37 EST