What Depression Could Mean for Seniors

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DepressionGetting a lot of attention in recent years, depression is stepping out from the shadows in which it previously lurked. Nobody is immune to it, and a new study says that for older adults who begin to suffer depression, there might be something else at play: it might be a warning sign of dementia.

Published in the Archives of Neurology, the study included Medicare recipients who were at least 65 years old. It found that depression among this age group appeared to be associated with mild cognitive impairment—and an increased risk of dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition that lies somewhere between the normal age-related decline in your mind and the severe decline of dementia. MCI patients may experience memory lapses, language issues, difficulty thinking and concentrating, and problems with judgment.

In MCI, depressive symptoms can be quite common. (The numbers say between three percent and 63% of MCI patients have these symptoms.) Some studies have shown an increased dementia risk in individuals with a history of depression. What is causing this link between depression and cognitive decline is unclear, although many researchers have various theories.

PLUS: How mild depression can affect diabetes.

In the new health breakthrough, Dutch researchers evaluated the association of late-life depression with MCI and dementia in a group of 2,160 Medicare recipients who lived in their homes in the community. The study found depression to be a higher risk factor for MCI and dementia, and that MCI would have a greater likelihood to progress into dementia in the future. (Dementia is an umbrella term for cognitive changes that include Alzheimer’s disease.)

What to take away from this study is the notion that depression is something that should not be ignored. It is dangerous and difficult in its own right, and often—as this study suggests—it can be a sign that something more serious is potentially at play. At any age, it is important that depression be dealt with—and this doesn’t change for older adults who might mistakenly think it is a normal aspect of aging.

Sources for Today’s Articles:
What Depression Could Mean for Seniors
Richard, E., et al., “Late-Life Depression, Mild Cognitive Impairment, and Dementia,” Arch. Neurol.; published online December 31, 2012.

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