Memory recall and information processing can begin to slow as people age. Words that used to come easily may need to be searched for as people enter their golden years. These and other cognitive deficiencies are normal signs of aging. But significant neurologic impairment is not. People with depression often have difficulty with cognitive skills such as information processing, memory, visual perception, and language, the same tasks that can present a challenge for some elderly individuals. Claire E. Sexton of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford in England wanted to determine how late-life depression (LLD) affected certain functions. Specifically, she wanted to know if neurologic changes that resulted from depression were responsible for deficits in language, memory, and visual tasks, or if these deficits were the result of executive dysfunctions.
Sexton evaluated the neurologic make-up of 25 control participants with no history of LLD and 36 individuals with LLD, all over age 60. She used magnetic resonance imaging in each participant to examine the frontal-striatal-limbic region, an area of the brain that has been shown to be related to executive function. She also assessed them for cognitive abilities relating to episodic memory, language, visual spatial tasks, executive function, and processing speed. After examination, Sexton found that the LLD participants had much more difficulty with language tasks, memory recall, processing speed, and executive function. The executive function and processing deficits were severe enough that they negatively influenced the language and memory capacities of the participants.
Specifically, over half of the LLD participants had significant deficits in at least one area of cognitive abilities, with executive functioning being the most common area of weakness, represented by 44% of the participants in this group. Sexton said, “Thus, findings support the importance of frontal-striatal-limbic connections in executive function in LLD.” She also found that decreases in processing speed led to impairments in language, visual capacities, and memory recall. Sexton believes these findings underscore the importance of evaluating neurologic deficits as potential symptoms of LLD in elderly clients.
Sexton, C. E., McDermott, L., Kalu, U. G., Herrmann, L. L., Bradley, K. M. (2012). Exploring the pattern and neural correlates of neuropsychological impairment in late-life depression. Psychological Medicine, 42.6, 1195-1202.
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