Is Depression an Early Indicator of Dementia?

Mood disorders such as depression can impact cognitive functioning. People with major depression (MD) can have difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions, and remembering things. Although these behaviors mimic those found in dementia, research focusing on the link between MD and dementia has yet to prove a definitive relationship. Reasons for this include use of diverse participant samples, a wide variety of diagnostic tools, and attention to a broad range of symptoms. Some studies have focused on people with dementia, while others have looked only at mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Similarly, some studies examine clinical diagnosis of MD in relation to dementia onset while others pay closer attention to depressive symptoms.

In an attempt to gather a more conclusive assessment of the link between MD and dementia, Melanie Luppa of the Institute of Social Medicine, Occupational Health, and Public Health at the University of Leipzig in Germany conducted a far reaching analysis on over 1,200 participants over the age of 75 over an eight year period. Baseline interviews gauged clinical MD symptoms, mood, and cognitive capacity. The participants were then re-evaluated every 18 months for the entire 8 years. This method allowed Luppa to determine which diagnostic tools and targets were most effective to clarifying a relationship between MD and dementia in older adults.

After reviewing the longitudinal data, Luppa found that MD did not directly predict dementia in those participants with normal cognitive functioning at baseline. However, those who presented with MCI and mood problems were at increased risk of dementia. The participants who expressed thoughts of death were among the most at risk. Luppa used varying diagnostic approaches for her analysis and believes that this technique explains some of the inconsistencies in her findings. For example, existing medical and psychological conditions including disability, isolation and bereavement, that could affect cognitive functioning and mood could contribute significantly to depressive symptoms and dementia, yet none was targeted specifically in this study. Luppa believes that the findings of her study do suggest that mood problems could be early symptoms of dementia rather than risk factors for it. She added, “Further in-depth investigation with larger samples would help to understand the nature of depression in the context of incident dementia, and the mechanism linking both.”

Luppa, M., Luck, T., Ritschel, F., Angermeyer, M.C., Villringer, A., et al. (2013). Depression and incident dementia. An 8-year population-based prospective study. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59246. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059246

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  • Deiter


    April 23rd, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    I had no idea that people with depression often got confused until my dad was diagnosed with depression when I was in high school. He would get really frustrated when he tried to things he’d always been able to do like fixing a leaky sink. Then, one day he had to have someone drive him home from work because he couldn’t figure out how to. He ended up having to be out of work a couple of months two different times because of the depression. I was pretty shocked to find out impaired mental functioning was all a part of it. And, my dad wasn’t just your run of the mill guy. He was an extremely intelligent man who was a vice president of his firm. Just goes to show it can happen to anyone.

  • Fiona


    April 23rd, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    One thing i’m not clear on: what is the diff. b/w dimentia and mild cognitive impairment what signs should you look for.

  • haley


    April 23rd, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    man those were some pretty old people they looked at in the study

    i wonder how many of them made it to the end of the study it seems likea lot would’ve died right

    i hope they all made it cuz this is a good study but i just don’t see how they could have i mean they were all pretty old

    but i’m so glad someone is giving older people attention they deserve that right

  • Jodie Y

    Jodie Y

    April 23rd, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    I always wondered about depression and older people. I wonder what the suicide rate is. It seems like it’d be pretty high. If you’re that close to death and depressed what’s stopping you? I know that’s kind of morbid and all, but there must be some truth to it.

  • yolanda S

    yolanda S

    April 23rd, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    Well I surely do hope the doctor’s at my mammas place will take a look at what your talking about here because I swear those folks ain’t got a clue as to what there doing with her it makes me so mad.

    She sits there all day staring out the window and won’t talk to nobody not even me i asked them was she depressed adn they said no its just how she do and she snap out of it soon.

    I’m gonna take this to them i swear i am so they can see it and then maybe she can get better bless her heart i love her so much and i don’t want to see her suffer none.

  • susan


    April 23rd, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    so is depression so harmful that it could cause damage to these levels? well then happiness would be a great commodity to sell!

  • Billy s

    Billy s

    April 24th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    We might not ever know for sure which causes the other- the important thing is to realize that often the two do go together, so if this is something that is manifesting in your life right now, you have to know that the likelihood of you developing dementia in the future is a very real possibility

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