Can Depression Cause Cognitive Decline?

We know that mental health plays an important role in our physical and cognitive health in the present, but it also may impact us later in life. Depression is a common psychological disorder that everyone will experience at some point in their lifetime. However, chronic depression or long-lasting depression may have devastating effects to our cognitive health in our later years. In this blog post, we discuss whether depression can cause cognitive decline in old age.

The Study

Researchers at UCSF studied 15,000 participants between the ages of 20-89. Adults were divided up into early, mid, and late adulthood groups based on their age range. Information was collected about a person’s body mass index, smoking habits, education, race, sex, history of diabetes, history of depression, and neuropsychological functioning. Researchers found that people who reported more depressive symptoms had lower cognitive functioning and were more likely to develop cognitive decline than people who had little to no depressive symptoms. 

Why it matters

Depression impacts people of all ages. For adults, causes of depression may involve situational causes (death of a family member, job loss, or relocation), biological causes, and resulting from a medical condition such as having a stroke or being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Depression can disrupt a person’s ability to function in everyday life, which in turn can cause someone to become anxious and enter a negative cycle. It is important that when working with someone who is experiencing depression to work with them on developing effective strategies to manage their depression and ensure that they have proper coping skills in place in case they experience a bout of depression. Additionally, some clinical providers may work with their clients on cognitive skills to help their clients with depression alleviate the cognitive complications that may result from being depressed.

What can be done?

For adults, managing and treating depression is a part of healthy aging. Adults may make important lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, exercising, spending time with friends, and performing cognitively stimulating activities. At each stage of adulthood, it is important that clinical professionals help their clients struggling with depression develop effective strategies to manage their depression and prevent disruption of their everyday life. 

Source: Brenowitz, W.D., et al. (2021) Depressive Symptoms Imputed Across the Life Course Are Associated with Cognitive Impairment and Cognitive Decline. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. doi.org/10.3233/JAD-210588.
Christine Campbell

Christine is HappyNeuron Pro’s Marketing Specialist. People with intellectual disabilities have a special place in her heart. Growing up with a sibling with an autism diagnosis and intellectual disability influenced the way she views life. She is passionate about educating people about health and sharing cognitive tips.

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