Late-life depression is a risk factor for dementia
Articles / Blog

Late-life depression

Like any chronic disease, depression doesn’t discriminate. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), it affects nearly 15 million adults in the United States every year. Although the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the median age of depression’s onset is 32, the disease can strike at any time.

Unlike most chronic diseases, depression often goes untreated; the DBSA reports that almost two-thirds of people with the disease never get treatment. Untreated depression can make daily life unbearable, making even basic tasks seem insurmountable. Wait long enough and untreated depression can result in suicide. Worse, a new study has found a possible connection between lifelong depression and dementia later in life.

A relationship between depression and dementia

In the study, researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the city’s VA Medical Center tracked depressive symptoms in nearly 2,500 seniors in their 70s who did not have dementia. Over the next six years, the researchers examined the number of seniors who developed dementia by looking at test results, records from hospitals and the use of dementia medication. Additionally, the researchers grouped their subjects into three groups depending on their level of emotional function:

  • Those who were minimally depressed
  • Those with moderate and increasing depressive symptoms
  • Those with severe and increasing symptoms of depression

Results showed over 21 percent of the seniors with severe and increasing depression symptoms developed dementia, as opposed to only 12.3 percent of the seniors with minimal depression. “While we cannot rule out that depression may foreshadow dementia as an early symptom, or may be an emotional response to cognitive decline, we found an almost twofold increase among those with high-and-increasing symptoms,” said study lead author, UCSF professor and psychologist Allison Kaup, Ph.D. in a press release.

An earlier UCSF study also found links between late-life depression and vascular dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, vascular dementia is a decline in cognitive skills caused by a reduction of blood flow to the brain, depriving brain cells of oxygen and other nutrients.

In the earlier study, published in 2012 in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers from UCSF and Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research examined records from over 13,000 patients who participated in the Multiphasic Health Checkup, a voluntary examination first given to patients in San Francisco in Oakland from 1964 to 1973. Patients were screened for depressive symptoms during the initial checkup.

The patients were screened again for depressive symptoms between 1994 and 2000. Between 2003 and 2009, over 3,000 of the patients were diagnosed with dementia. Results showed the risk of dementia increased by 20 percent for patients who reported being depressed in middle age, and 70 percent for patients who had depressive symptoms late in life.

Treating depression

Treatment works – the National Institute of Health reports nearly 80 percent of the people who get treated for depression show improvements in their symptoms in under two months. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression can be treated with medication, psychotherapy and even electroconvulsive therapy.  Psychotherapy tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients learn more about their disease and question the assumptions and negative thoughts depression can create.

Depression is something nobody should have to live with. Sovereign Health of California understands this, which is why our staff of compassionate professionals treats their patients as the individuals they are. Our dual-diagnosis approach treats both mental disorders and any other problems they create, like substance abuse. We work with our clients to craft an individually-tailored treatment program to ensure the best chance at a full, successful recovery. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at news@sovhealth.com.

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