Background: While cognitive dysfunction in late-onset depression (LOD) is common, the nature and determinants of this impairment are heterogeneous. It has been suggested that neuropsychological decrements in LOD patients might result from a deficit in processing resources. In order to address this issue, we analyzed processing resources in LOD to see if their decrease explains higher-level cognition (episodic memory and naming capacity) deficits. Methods: Measures of processing speed, working memory, inhibition, episodic memory and naming capacity were administered to 14 LOD inpatients and 14 controls. Results: The LOD patients performed significantly worse than the controls in all domains except for inhibition. Hierarchical regression analyses showed that naming capacity impairment was totally mediated by processing speed and working memory, whereas episodic memory dysfunction was only partially mediated by working memory. Conclusion: The reduction in certain processing resources (working memory, processing speed) in late-onset depressed patients appears to mediate impairments in episodic memory and naming capacity. However, episodic memory impairment cannot only be explained by processing resource decrement in LOD patients, suggesting that a primary episodic memory dysfunction is present in this condition.

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