Could Depression Increase the Risk of Dementia?

First Posted: Jul 31, 2014 12:03 PM EDT

An estimated 26 percent of Americans 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder; for many, this is a form of depression.

A recent study published in the journal Neurology shows that those who deal with this debilitating health issue are also at an increased risk for dementia.

"Studies have shown that people with symptoms of depression are more likely to develop dementia, but we haven't known how the relationship works," said lead study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, neuropsychiatrist at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, in a news release. "Is the depression a consequence of the dementia? Do both problems develop from the same underlying problems in the brain? Or does the relationship of depression with dementia have nothing to do with dementia-related pathology?"

Yet recent study findings question the link between depression and dementia in regards to any dementia-related changes found in the brain.

For their research, study authors looked at 1,764 people from the Religious Orders Study and the Rush Memory and Aging Project. All participants were an average of 77 years old and none dealt with memory problems at the start of the study.

After a thorough analyzation of the participants' depression symptoms, researchers found that those who developed mild cognitive impairment were more likely to have more links to depression before they were diagnosed. Furthermore, they found no significant change in depression symptoms after diagnoses between health participants and those with mild cognitive impairment.

Findings also revealed that people with dementia were significantly more likely to experience higher levels of depression before they started dealing with symptoms of dementia. However, as the symptoms of dementia progressed, their depression decreased. 

Researchers note that more studies will need to be conducted in order to cement a firmer connection between the two health issues. 

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