Bipolar May Put Older Individuals at Higher Risk for Dementia

Numerous studies have been conducted assessing the neurocognitive impairments associated with bipolar (BD). It is theorized that these impairments occur when symptoms of BD first appear, usually in adolescence or early adulthood. However, people with BD can have normal life expectancies, thus raising the question of how these impairments affect overall cognitive capacities in later years. As people age, they experience a normal and gradual decline in cognitive abilities, memory, information processing and even language. They also often experience declines in their physical abilities which can impact their instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). Although there is extensive research on the effects of BD episodes on various domains across the lifespan, little attention has been given to how older adults with BD are impacted in areas of cognitive abilities and IADLs.

To address this gap, Ariel G. Gildengers of the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry recently conducted a study involving 47 individuals with BD, all over the age of 50. She compared their cognitive and executive functions and their IADLs to those of 22 BD individuals of similar ages who do not have BD. Gildengers evaluated all of the participants at baseline and two more times over the next two years. She found that even though the participants with BD had less cognitive resources at baseline, they did not have steeper declines than the control participants over the course of the two years. In fact, the declines in both groups were reflective of normal cognitive decreases that accompany aging.

Gildengers did note that the BD individuals had poorer overall executive functioning, memory capacity, and, in particular, slower information processing than the controls. Language deficits were relatively equal among the two groups. The results of this study show that even though BD adults may not be at risk for disproportionate cognitive reductions as they age, they may be more vulnerable to cognitive illnesses such as dementia earlier in life than individuals without equal levels of cognitive impairment. She added, “Hence, interventions targeting cognitive function need to be focused early on to prevent cognitive deterioration.”

Gildengers, A. G., et al. (2013). Two-year course of cognitive function and instrumental activities of daily living in older adults with bipolar disorder: Evidence for neuroprogression? Psychological Medicine 43.4 (2013): 801-11. ProQuest. Web.

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  • lane


    March 28th, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    I would love to know if the same is true across the board for all bipolar patients or just for those who have never received adequate treatment for their illness?

  • Nellie O

    Nellie O

    March 29th, 2013 at 4:04 AM

    I suppose that any time that one lives with something so difficult like bipolar disorder for all of their lives, it is naturally going to have an effect on them whether it has been treated or not. These illnesses like this, over time they are going to take a toll on both the body and the mond. You know that individuals who have to battle this all their lives must eventually feel like it is too much, that they are tired of having to fight that same fight day after day. I am glad that finally there are those who are concerned not just about treating the illness at hand, but are looking ahead to other possibilities and eventualities, looking at what could be next and trying to work on ways that will eventually lessen the pain for so many.

  • Gerar


    March 29th, 2013 at 11:46 PM

    Okay, the deterioration is not any worse. But is having BD detrimental from a self-view kind of an aspect? Because although things may not change biologically or physically there is also the psychological effect when it comes to a person’s ability. Does having BD affect that?

  • ANDY


    March 31st, 2013 at 12:12 AM

    Deficit -> Precaution

    No precaution -> Negative effects, especially in latter years

    It is imperative that those with BD take extra care and precaution. Or it is surely going to come in their way somehow!

  • Meg


    April 1st, 2013 at 9:39 AM

    would you agree with the statement that so many times these illnesses are intertwined and that it is not typical to see one without eventually the onset of the other?

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