As the conversation around mental health becomes less stigmatized, increased efforts have been made to understand the mechanisms that drive conditions like anxiety and depression. And as science learns more about them, it’s also been able to evaluate the impact of depression on physical and psychological health—a worthwhile endeavor, considering that depression is the leading cause of disability for people between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States. One such study found that depression may increase the incidence of dementia and rapid brain aging.
People with diagnosed depression or depressive symptoms were more likely to experience aspects of cognitive decline such as memory loss and difficulty processing information as they aged.
The authors of the study published in Psychological Medicine sought to look for a connection between cognitive decline and mental health. By examining 34 studies with more than 71,000 participants, the study found that people with diagnosed depression or depressive symptoms were more likely to experience aspects of cognitive decline such as memory loss and difficulty processing information as they aged. The study didn’t look to find why or how this happens, but since similar mental-health conditions like anxiety can cause memory loss, it’s easy to see how these two conditions may be connected.
The results of this analysis are incredibly significant because, currently, there is no cure for dementia—so it’s important for those with depression to take preventative measures—like exercising and getting enough sleep—to protect themselves from cognitive decline. Right now, diagnoses of dementia are estimated to reach 74.7 million in the world by 2030 (a huge leap from 46.8 million in 2015), which would put a serious strain on society as it attempts to keep up with care for its elderly population.
“Our findings should give the government even more reason to take mental health issues seriously and to ensure that health provisions are properly resourced. We need to protect the mental well-being of our older adults and to provide robust support services to those experiencing depression and anxiety in order to safeguard brain function in later life,” said co-author of the study, Darya Gaysina, PhD, professor of psychology at University of Sussex.
Dementia and depression are some of the biggest health issues of our time—continuing to understand and decode them is imperative for the health of future generations.
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