Neuropsychology Review

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 376–393 | Cite as

Subjective Cognitive Complaints and Objective Cognitive Function in Aging: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Recent Cross-Sectional Findings

  • Bridget BurmesterEmail author
  • Janet Leathem
  • Paul Merrick


Research investigating how subjective cognitive complaints (SCCs) might reliably indicate impairments in objective cognitive functioning has produced highly varied findings, and despite attempts to synthesise this literature (e.g., Jonker et al. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 15, 983–991, 2000; Reid and MacLullich Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 22(5–6), 471–485, 2006; Crumley et al. Psychology and Aging, 29(2), 250–263, 2014), recent work continues to offer little resolution. This review provides both quantitative and qualitative synthesis of research conducted since the last comprehensive review in 2006, with the aim of identifying reasons for these discrepancies that might provide fruitful avenues for future exploration. Meta-analysis found a small but significant association between SCCs and objective cognitive function, although it was limited by large heterogeneity between studies and evidence of potential publication bias. Often, assessments of SCCs and objective cognitive function were brief or not formally validated. However, studies that employed more comprehensive SCC measures tended to find that SCCs were associated independently with both objective cognitive function and depressive symptoms. Further explicit investigation of how assessment measures relate to reports of SCCs, and the validity of the proposed ‘compensation theory’ of SCC aetiology, is recommended.


Subjective cognitive complaints Subjective memory complaints Memory impairment Cognitive impairment Aging 


Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was partially funded by a HOPE-Selwyn Foundation Scholarship for Research on Ageing.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

For this type of study formal consent is not required. This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyMassey UniversityWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of PsychologyMassey UniversityAucklandNew Zealand

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