Depression and Dementia
We have known for years now that people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia can also suffer from depression. In fact, some of the research available shows that a person who has a history of major depression has double the risk of developing dementia.
Symptom, Cause or Shared Underlying Factor?But a problem here is finding out whether the depression is a symptom of the dementia or if the depression actually causes it. A new study has sought out the answers to this question.
Diagnosing Depression and Alzheimer’s DiseaseComplicating matters is that depression – especially when it persists – can lead to memory impairment and cognitive decline. This makes diagnosis more challenging for both Alzheimer’s disease and depression. With only one in ten people estimated to be seeking treatment for depression after the age of sixty-five, there is also the false assumption that depression is a normal part of ageing.
Tracking Symptoms of DepressionTo learn more, researchers wanted to track the common symptoms of depression. They looked at the symptoms in the transitional period from when a person has no signs of dementia to when the disease develops and progresses. Basically, they looked at what was happening in terms of the depression before cognitive impairment and after.
If the case was that depression was something that represented an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, then it should get worse just before a person is diagnosed and worse still as the disease progresses. In this study, however, that was not what happened.
Depression as a Risk Factor for Alzheimer’s DiseaseVery little change occurred with the symptoms of depression, even though the participants transitioned into the disease state. Researchers concluded that depression might be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Criticisms of this conclusion are that depression in itself may not be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease but instead, some other factor that makes people vulnerable to depression could be doing the same for dementia. Even from this study, the results are not conclusive although they make it unlikely that depression is a cause of dementia.
Also, researchers warn that we should not interpret the study results as an indication that if you have depression, you will definitely get Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, they say that we should make more efforts to treat the depression and try to provide support to those who have a higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.