Depression affects nearly 20% of Americans over the age of 65. Seniors’ depression symptoms are frequently written off as inevitable reactions to the aging process or the result of steady cognitive decline, limiting their access to help. New research highlights the importance of depression interventions in this group, finding that the combination of mild cognitive impairment and depression can rapidly accelerate brain aging.
Seniors, Depression, and the Aging Brain
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can slightly decrease cognitive functioning, although symptoms are not as severe as those associated with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Many seniors with MCI still lead stimulating, active, and independent lives. Researchers wanted to evaluate the brain effects of MCI and depression, so they evaluated 80 seniors who were in remission after receiving treatment for depression. Thirty-six members of the group had MCI and 44 did not.
Using PET and MRI scans, researchers examined both groups’ brains, looking for signs of Alzheimer’s, vascular disease, and proteins associated with brain aging. They found that the 36 subjects with MCI were more likely to have vascular problems in the brain, including signs of small strokes. They also had more differences in brain proteins implicated in the aging process. They did not, however, have a higher rate of plaque deposits associated with Alzheimer’s. The study’s authors suggest that their results point to the ways that MCI and depression can conspire to increase the odds of developing dementia.
The Importance of Early Interventions for Seniors
This research further highlights the need for early depression screening and interventions among seniors. Although aging can be frightening, depression is not a normal part of the aging process and always warrants intervention. Senior men have the highest suicide rate of any age group, and seniors’ doctors don’t always recognize the signs of depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 70% of seniors who commit suicide saw a doctor the month they died, and 20% saw a doctor the day they died. By encouraging depressed seniors to seek help, friends and family can not only prevent suicides, but also potentially help the seniors they love avoid serious illnesses such as dementia.
- Depression in Older Persons Fact Sheet. (2009, October). Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=7515
- Elderly with depression, mild cognitive impairment more vulnerable to accelerated brain aging. (2014, August 7). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140807145910.htm
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