Depression May Increase Dementia Risk

Over 16 million people suffer from depression in a given year, and over 40 million struggle to cope with anxiety. Affective disorders like depression and anxiety have long been known to exacerbate physical illnesses such as IBD, stomach upset, and otherwise unexplained illnesses like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Researchers have now added dementia to that list.

Prematurely Aging the Brain

A recent study has confirmed what researchers have long suspected: Those who suffer from anxiety and depression are at increased risk for developing dementia as they age. The study, conducted at the University of Sussex, compared data on over 71,000 adults suffering from affective disorders. They found people with depression experienced increased age-related memory loss, had higher levels of decision-making skill impairment, and suffered vaster declines in information processing speeds.

These findings suggest depression may be an early predictor of dementia later in life. Too few studies comparing anxiety and cognitive function were available for separate analysis, but given that about half of those who suffer from depression also suffer from anxiety, anxiety could very easily play just as significant a role. 

Causal Connection?

While the analysis was able to draw a connection between depression and cognitive decline, it wasn’t able to determine whether the depression itself was responsible. Previous studies have suggested depression may be a risk factor for age-related dementia, and have also dismissed depression treatments as causal factors. 

Still, research appears to be lacking in investigating if lifestyle factors are related to affective disorders. For example, does depression affect eating patterns or contribute to sedentary behaviors that could adversely affect the brain? While one may appear to cause the other, the physical effects may be deeper and far more complex than first suspected.

Research continues and we are certain to hear more about any causal links between depression and anxiety and an increased risk for developing dementia. Given the fact that depression and anxiety affects over 56 million people, this is a very important research initiative.

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11/25/2018 8:00:00 AM
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