Depression Speeds up Brain Aging, Find Psychologists

Source: University of Sussex

Summary: Researchers have found a link between depression and an acceleration of the rate at which the brain ages.

Although scientists have previously reported that people with depression or anxiety have an increased risk of dementia in later life, this is the first study that provides comprehensive evidence for the effect of depression on a decline in overall cognitive function, in a general population. Researchers conducted a robust systematic review of 34 longitudinal studies, with the focus on the link between depression or anxiety and decline in cognitive function over time. Evidence from more than 71,000 participants was combined and reviewed. the study looked at the rate of decline of the overall cognitive state encompassing memory loss, executive function (such as decision making) and information processing speed in older adults. The study findings were published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Depression leads to faster brain ageing

How depression and anxiety speed up cognitive ageing. Credit: Amber John, University of Sussex

Importantly, any studies of participants who were diagnosed with dementia at the start of the study were excluded from the analysis. This was done in order to assess more broadly the impact of depression on cognitive ageing in the general population. The study found that people with depression experienced a greater decline in a cognitive state in older adulthood than those without depression. As there is a long pre-clinical period of several decades before dementia may be diagnosed, the findings are important for early interventions as currently there is no cure for the disease. Researchers are calling for greater awareness of the importance of supporting mental health to protect brain health in later life.

Dr. Gaysina, a Lecturer in Psychology and EDGE Lab Lead, comments: “This study is of great importance our populations are ageing at a rapid rate and the number of people living with decreasing cognitive abilities and dementia is expected to grow substantially over the next thirty years”.

More Information: A. John et al, “Affective problems and decline in cognitive state in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis”, Psychological Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.1017/S0033291718001137

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