Could Depression and Worry Lead to Alzheimer’s?

Depression and dementia have been linked through a variety of research paths. Some exploration has identified similarities in symptoms, especially those related to memory and cognition. This has led to theories suggesting that depression may be predictive of dementia, or even a prodrome, early symptom of dementia or Alzheimer’s (AD). Evidence pertaining to depression has shown that age of onset is a significant indicator of condition course, symptom trajectory and overall outcome.

Therefore, Kathrin Heser of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Bonn in Germany used age of onset to look at the influence of depression, depression symptoms, and severity of symptoms on AD in a sample of 2,663 elderly individuals. Heser evaluated subjective memory and objective cognition in the participants, as well as course and manifestation of depression, every 18 months for almost five years.

She found that depression was uniquely linked to dementia and AD. Specifically, Heser discovered that the participants with very late-onset of depression, over the age of 70, who had present symptoms of depression were the most likely to develop dementia. This was exacerbated by high levels of memory impairment and worry.

However, the participants with only mid-life depression onset only had increased risk of AD dementia. The young-onset participants had no significant increased risk for AD or all-course dementia. It was only the very late-onset participants with symptoms that demonstrated clear prodromal symptoms of dementia. Heser believes that these participants could have had longer courses of depression without any periods of remission, thus increasing their subjective memory and objective cognition problems and making them more vulnerable to dementia.

In sum, these findings show that depression may be a prodromal symptom of AD and dementia rather than merely a risk factor. If this finding can be validated in future work, the clinical implications could be significant. Professionals working with the elderly, and especially those with any evident symptoms of depression, might consider putting more focus on memory and cognition issues as these could indicate early signs of dementia in this segment of the population. “Thus,” added Heser, “Very late-onset depression with persistent symptomatology that is based on worrisome subjective memory impairment in the elderly might deserve close neuropsychological monitoring.”

Heser, K., et al. (2013). Age of major depression onset, depressive symptoms, and risk for subsequent dementia: Results of the German study on ageing, cognition, and dementia in primary care patients (AgeCoDe). Psychological Medicine 43.8 (2013): 1597-610. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Rachel

    September 14th, 2013 at 4:42 AM

    I thought that there were other markers in the brain that more significantly indicated a risk for alzheimers more than a tendency toward depression? Like maybe some gemetic marker?

  • Jake

    September 14th, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    I felt such a relief reading this, not that it really assures me that I won’t develop dementia because I guess ya just never really know do ya, but I did have a serious bout with depression when I was younger and any time I read something like this it always makes me kinda think that this will be my fate. I don’t know why but I have just always felt like somehow this was gonna be a part of my future and there is really nothing clear cut in family history or nothin like that that points to it, just mainly that I have always struggled with issues like this in my life. So when I think about how this could have been my sign setting me up for dementia later in life it sorta makes me a little paranoid. Guess it’s just a little comforting to know that as of right now anyway I guess my chances are no greater than those of anyone else.

  • susie

    September 16th, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    Although it doesn’t appear from this study that there is a definitive link, you have to know that years and years of worry and anxiety are not going to be good for the body or for the mind.
    I would encourage anyone who is living with this on a daily basis to find other ways to deal with their stress. Try meditation, try ecercise, try something, because almost anything that you do to cope with this is going to be far better for you than the constant worry and rudimenting on things that may be beyond your ability to change.

  • Virgil

    September 16th, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    If I am reading this correctly there is something that happens to some of us as we age age that would not only set us up and make us more susceptible to depression, but whatever is going on there will also lead us to be more likely to to develop Alzheimer’s.

    Well then ,whatever that is I sure as heck want to know because if I am doing it or causeing my body to do it I want to stop it immediately. Iw atched my dad with this disease and it ain’t pretty. I DO NOT want this to be me one day.

  • Dan S

    September 17th, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    do you think that in the end we are worrying about things that are beyond our ability to control?

  • Brett Stewart

    October 8th, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    We need more Alzheimer’s awareness activities and charity events must be put on to gather more awareness and funds for the research study to cure, reverse or eliminate Alzheimer’s

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