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Depression predicts mental decline in seniors

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Dr. Dombeck received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1995 ...Read More

Here’s something new to be depressed about. A recent study of seniors (mostly men) finds that measurable levels of chronic depression are associated with increased levels of cognitive decline over a multi-year period. In English, this finding appears to suggest that knowing a senior’s depression status can help predict their risk for mild cognitive problems (problems with memory, name recognition, maintaining concentration and attention, etc.), which may be precursors themselves for dementia or senility. To be clear, not all depressed seniors in the study showed the cognitive declines; just enough of them to show that there is a link between depression at time one and problems at time two. The size of depression at time one is also a predictive factor – the stronger the depression, the more people were affected. Twenty percent of the severely depressed men showed cognitive problems, vs. thirteen percent of men with only mild depression and ten percent of men who weren’t depressed at all. Depression has long been associated with something called “pseudodementia” which is a reversable cognitive decline which goes away as depression lifts, but this new study appears to be suggesting that there is a deeper real link to actual, non-reversable dementia and depression. Nobody knows what it is about depression that may predispose some folks to lose their mental abilities faster than others at this time, but you can be sure someone will be following up on this study trying to figure it out.

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