Suffering from depression, especially later in life, is associated with a higher chance of developing a degenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s.
Research suggests that getting treatment for depression in your fifties and sixties could significantly reduce your risk of dementia. One article, published in The Times, explored this link further.
The new study
This new study, published in the Biological Psychiatry journal, included around 350,000 British adults with an average age of 60 years. They found that those adults who had treatment for their depression were around 30% less likely to develop dementia. Compared to those who did not have treatment for depression. This risk reduction was seen in those adults who had antidepressant drug treatment or talking therapy treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy. This was even seen in cases where the patients continued to feel depressed post-treatment.
Dr. Wei Cheng of Fudan University, Shanghai, one of the authors of the study, says that:
“This indicates that timely treatment of depression is needed among those with late-life depression…..Participants with an increasing course of depression [where symptoms became progressively worse] showed a significantly lower risk of subsequent dementia.”
They also found that those adults with a diagnosis of depression had a 51% increased risk of dementia, compared to those without a diagnosis of depression.
Theories for depression and dementia
The relationship between depression and dementia is not yet fully understood, but there are several theories.
One theory suggests that individuals who are depressed may be more likely to neglect to engage in the protective factors that protect against dementia development. For example, people with depression may fail to take care of their physical health, by failing to have a good diet and engage in exercise, both of which are protective factors against dementia. Therefore, taking an antidepressant may help increase the chances of eating well and staying active.
Another protective factor against dementia is social interaction; therapy can help provide more of this. Treatments for depression could also help cognitive reserve, which is the ability of the brain to adapt to changes that are due to aging or disease. Learning, social interactions, and engaging in stimulating activities can all increase cognitive reserve and work against dementia development.
Another theory for the link between depression and dementia is that depression can increase steroid levels, which in turn can damage the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is important for memory. Alternatively, a change in mood can also sometimes be an early symptom of dementia itself.
Although this new research could not prove a causal relationship between depression treatments and the risk of dementia, other experts credit the findings of this study, saying that they are plausible and that this relationship deserves more attention for future research.
Professor Allan Young of King’s College London said:
“Rates of detection of depression are very low…..only 50% is detected and only a proportion of that is properly treated…..People think it’s perhaps normal to be depressed when you’re old – it’s wrong. It should be treated like depression in any other age group.”
Smart TMS Bristol Practitioner