Depression Raises Dementia Risk

by Pat Berry

Seniors enjoying sunshine, nature, and company

Seniors enjoying sunshine, nature, and company

Two long-term studies, whose results were recently published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, show that older people who suffer from depression are much more likely to suffer later from dementia than those without depression.

Although researchers are not sure why depression heightens the risk of dementia, the results definitely suggest that depression is actually a risk factor for dementia. Those who had one episode of depression with elevated depression symptoms were 87% to 92% more likely to eventually develop dementia than those without depression; two episodes translate into almost double the risk of the non-depressed.

In one of the studies 1,239 older adults were followed for over two decades. The participants were from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.

Dr. Vonetta M. Dotson, PhD, of the National Institute on Aging, led the study associated with the Baltimore Study. The results showed that recurrent depression is especially damaging with respect to the likelihood of subsequent dementia.

The researchers concluded with an unambiguous statement: "Preventing the recurrence of depression in older adults may prevent or delay the onset of dementia."

In a different study, researchers followed 949 older men and women, participants in The Framingham Heart Study, over a period of 17 years to try to discover if there was a link between depression and dementia. Their findings were similar to what Dr. Dotson and her team found--a 50% greater dementia risk for depressed individuals.

This should encourage us all to help our elders engage in behaviors that keep their spirits up and ward off depression, and to do our part to make that possible for them. Such things as maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, being socially active, receiving affection and attention from their loved ones and family, spending time in nature, getting enough quality sleep, cultivating positive thought and speech habits, and helping others can go a long way toward being happy and even overcoming depression. Many find that prayer or meditation is also very beneficial.

Omega-3 supplements have been shown to benefit people with depression, provided they are not also suffering from anxiety disorders.

Photo credits: Thank you, Rich Arnold at Nurture My Body, for your gracious permission to use your lovely photo!

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