Until now, the link between depression and dementia has only been correlational—the direction of the relationship unknown. A 2013 review of more than 50,000 older adults reported that those suffering from depression were more than twice as likely to develop dementia and 65% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s (read our blog on the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s here). Now scientists believe that depression is a contributing cause of dementia rather than a result of the disease.
Just this week, researchers from Rush University Medical Center published results in the journal Neurology that indicate depression as an independent risk factor for dementia. The researchers used a subject pool of 1,764 seniors in their late seventies who had no memory impairments at the beginning of the study. They followed this group for eight years, tracking the participants’ emotional and neurocognitive status on a yearly basis. Those who developed mild cognitive impairment or dementia during the eight-year span of the study were more likely to have had symptoms of depression prior to their diagnosis. The team estimated that depression accounted for up to 4.4% of the difference in cognitive decline from one study participant to the next.
It is still a mystery as to how exactly depression could lead to or exacerbate the symptoms of cognitive decline. However, there are a number of hypotheses actively being studied. For example, some research suggests that depression may elevate levels of hormones that disrupt certain brain functions, specifically regarding learning and memory.
In any case, there are many well-established routes of treatment for depression that now could potentially help seniors combat late-life cognitive decline as well. Meditation, exercise, and better sleep are all proven to help relieve depression. These three essentials are integral components in both of Home Care Assistance’s proprietary approaches to the improvement of senior health and longevity, the Balanced Care Method™ and Cognitive Therapeutics Method™.