“The coexistence of depressive symptoms and cognitive decline in older adulthood is well established, whereby greater depressive symptoms are associated with poorer cognitive functioning and cognitive decline,” said Allison A.M. Bielak of the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian national University in Australia. “However, the mechanisms through which depressive symptoms relate to increased decline in perceptual speed are uncertain, and either end of the functioning spectrum may be driving the effect.” Bielak and her colleagues conducted a study to determine if the depressive symptoms predicted the cognitive impairment. “Rather than more depressive symptoms acting as a risk for cognitive decline, it may be that having few depressive symptoms serves as a protective factor against decline,” she said.
Experts theorize that depression can increase the risk for the development of dementia in a number of different ways. Specifically, the clinical symptoms of depression can cause damage to the hippocampal, resulting in a significant decrease in cognitive protective mechanisms that make an individual more vulnerable to the development of dementia and other psychological problems.
For their study, the researchers examined 1206 Australians over age 70. They assessed levels of depression and cognitive functioning using a questionnaire, a personal interview and a clinical evaluation. They measured the levels at five different times over 15 years. They found that the higher the levels of depressive symptoms, the faster the cognitive decline in these individuals. Because of the significantly high number of individuals being diagnosed with depression, as well as the increase of cases of dementia in older adults, the researchers believe the study offers valuable information. “The present findings that depressive symptoms appear to lead changes in perceptual speed might hence be valuable to understanding the development of the link between these clinical conditions,” said the team. Ultimately, they hope that further research will lead to treatments that delay or prevent the development of dementia in clients with depression.
Bielak, Allison A.M., Denis Gerstorf, Kim M. Kiely, Kaarin J. Anstey, and Mary Luszcz. “Depressive Symptoms Predict Decline in Perceptual Speed in Older Adulthood.”Psychology and Aging 26.3 (2011): 576-83. Print.
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