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Cognitive complaints in older adults may be indicative of progressive cognitive decline including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but also occur in other age-related chronic conditions, complicating identification of early AD symptoms. To better understand cognitive complaints in aging, we systematically reviewed the evidence to determine their prevalence and characterization among older adults with the most common age-related chronic conditions.


This systematic review was conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses statement and the review protocol was prospectively registered with PROSPERO (ID: CRD42020153147). Searches were conducted in PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I in June 2020. Two members of the review team independently determined article eligibility for inclusion and conducted quality appraisal. A narrative synthesis of results was used to integrate findings across studies and draw conclusions regarding the strength of the evidence in each chronic condition category.


Thirty-seven articles met eligibility criteria and were included in the review. Conditions represented were diabetes (n = 20), heart disease (n = 13), hypertension (n = 10), chronic lung disease (n = 5), arthritis (n = 4), heart failure (n = 2), and hyperlipidemia (n = 2). In addition, 16 studies included a measure of multimorbidity. Overall, there was a higher prevalence of cognitive complaints in individuals with higher multimorbidity, including a potential dosedependent relationship. Findings for specific conditions were inconsistent, but there is evidence to suggest that cross-sectionally, older adults with diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and arthritis have more cognitive complaints than those without these conditions.


There is strong evidence demonstrating that cognitive complaints are more common in older adults with higher multimorbidity, but little research examining these associations over time. Improving our understanding of the longitudinal trajectory of cognitive complaints, multimorbidity, and objective cognition in older age is an important area for future research.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


© 2021 Hill et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

APA Citation

Hill, N. L., Bhargava, S., Brown, M. J., Kim, H., Bhang, I., Mullin, K., Phillips, K., & Mogle, J. (2021). Cognitive complaints in age-related chronic conditions: A systematic review. PLOS ONE, 16(7), e0253795.