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Cognitive Epidemiologists Reveal Threat to Memory in Older Adults

1 week ago 14

Depression and memory decline are intimately linked, with new research suggesting that each might affect the other.

Nearly 1 in 5 American adults aged 65 and over experience depressive symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, some 2 in 3 Americans aged 70 and over experience some form of cognitive impairment.

"It is known that depression and poor memory often occur together in older people, but what comes first has been unclear," Dorina Cadar, a research fellow in dementia at University College London and a professor at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the U.K., said in a statement.

Sad elderly woman
A senior woman rests her chin on a walking stick on a bench outside. Depression and age-associated memory decline appear to be intimately linked, offering new avenues for future interventions. Jacob Wackerhausen/Getty

To explore these associations, Cadar and colleagues analyzed data from 8,268 adults across England with an average age of 64. Over a period of 16 years, participants were asked a range of questions about their mental and cognitive health.

During this time, those with higher depressive symptoms were more likely to experience faster memory decline, while those who started off with a poorer memory were more likely to develop depressive symptoms during the study period.

"The study highlights the bidirectional relationship between depressive symptoms and memory decline in older adults," Cadar told Newsweek. "This interrelationship suggests that monitoring and addressing both aspects simultaneously might be critical for improving overall cognitive and emotional health."

Cadar added: "The findings underscore the importance of early detection and intervention for depressive symptoms to potentially mitigate subsequent memory decline.

"Moreover, addressing memory issues early might prevent or reduce the severity of depressive symptoms, creating a more holistic approach to managing the health of older adults."

As this study was based on observational data, more research will be needed to confirm the neurological mechanisms that underlie this association. However, the team says that the relationship may be governed by changes that occur in the brain during the development of depressive symptoms.

"Depression can cause changes in brain structures, such as the hippocampus, which is critical for memory formation and retrieval," Cadar said. "Chronic stress and high levels of cortisol associated with depression can damage neurons in these areas.

"However, a further understanding of mechanisms linking memory decline and depression is crucial for developing targeted interventions aimed at improving mood and slowing cognitive decline in individuals with depression and memory impairment."

The researchers added that depressive symptoms may also arise from frustration, loss of confidence and feelings of incompetence associated with age-related lapses in memory.

"Further research into the mechanisms linking depression and memory decline, including neurochemical and structural brain changes, could provide deeper insights into effective interventions," Cadar said.

So does this mean antidepressants could stave off memory decline?

"The study suggests that interventions to reduce depressive symptoms may help to slow down memory decline, but it does not specifically mention antidepressants or other forms of treatment," Cadar said.

"Antidepressants are one form of intervention, and if they effectively reduce depressive symptoms, they might indirectly slow memory decline. Other forms of intervention are counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)," Cadar added.

"However, the relationship between depression, memory decline, and the use of antidepressants or other forms of therapies would require targeted research to confirm whether antidepressants specifically could help in slowing memory decline."

The team's findings have been published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

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