Abstract

Abstract

Executive function, known to be impaired during late-life depression, is dependent on frontostriatal pathways. Memory is also frequently observed to be impaired among late-life depressed patients, so we assessed the possibility that executive function mediates the learning and recall deficit as a “downstream” effect of the frontostriatal compromise in executive function. A cross-sectional sample of minor and major depressed patients (N = 95) and nondepressed volunteers (N = 71), screened for other Axis I disorders, dementia, medical comorbidity, and severity of depression, completed a neuropsychological battery that included the California Verbal Learning Test and other tests selected for convergent and divergent validity testing. Depressed patients differed from controls on learning the word list and on verbal and nonverbal executive tasks. Executive function was a mediator for depressed patients verbal learning scores (z = −2.67, p =.01). A nonverbal executive score also mediated verbal learning (z = −2.18, p =.03) indicating convergent validity of executive dysfunction during verbal learning exercises. In conclusion, the verbal memory deficits typically attributed to late-life depression may result from impaired executive functioning during the learning phase of the recall task.