Are dementia and clinical depression linked? A growing body of evidence suggests so. This means that anyone who is providing care to an older adult or merely watching family members head into middle age should be wary of signs of depression.
How Dementia and Depression Are Linked
In the last decade, several studies from well-respected institutions all point towards a link between the two diseases. These include studies from UC San Francisco and the University of Pittsburgh.
Their findings varied slightly in the particulars but the big picture was similar: chronic untreated depression in middle age caused people to be roughly three times as likely to develop dementia (either Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia) later in life. In older adults, past retirement age, developing depression led to doubled chances of dementia.
To be clear, this only means that there is a link between the two diseases. Someone who is depressed in middle age will not necessarily develop dementia – but the risk is significantly elevated.
Why? Several competing theories exist, mostly involving the link between stress and depression:
- Too much cortisol. Cortisol is a brain hormone associated with stress, and long-term elevated levels of cortisol have been associated with a loss in short-term memory and learning ability.
- Stress damage. Another link between stress and brain problems is that stress can cause the hippocampus to become damaged. The hippocampus is one of the parts of the brain responsible for converting experiences into memories.
- Brain inflammation. Too much stress can cause inflammation in the brain’s blood vessels, damaging them and limiting the amount of blood and oxygen making their way to the brain.
In addition, psychologists have noted a lot of overlap in the symptoms of depression and dementia. Along with other biochemical causes, a depressed brain may simply get into the “habit” of being withdrawn and functioning at lower levels, making dementia much more likely as a byproduct.
How to Watch for The Warning Signs of Depression
Regardless of the exact biological reason depression can lead to dementia, the key takeaway is that chronic or clinical depression should always be recognized and treated, whenever possible. Whether the person is middle-aged, or elderly, treating the depression will lower his/her chances of developing dementia.
The symptoms of clinical depression include:
- Excessive worrying over relatively small issues
- High levels of stress due to environmental or lifestyle problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Socially withdrawing
- Feelings of helplessness or worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Low energy levels
- Unwillingness to engage in previously pleasurable activities
Remember: clinical depression is considered a disease, one caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. In most situations, clinical depression will not go away on its own. Medical assistance is necessary – which is why watching for these symptoms in your loved ones of any age is important.
Neighborly Home Care Offers Professional In Home Care in Pennsylvania and Delaware
In the event you are providing care for an elderly loved one who suffers from dementia and depression, Neighborly Home Care can help! Contact us to book your free consultation and learn about our services.
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