Let’s say it has been a rough year on the job. Your boss finally tells you he is downsizing and you are out of a job. Your kids are struggling in the job market as well. Your wife has been anxious and is dealing with caretaking her parents. It feels like life is closing in on you and you become depressed.
Depression has its own set of problems, but it may have one that you haven’t thought about. Researchers now believe that when people get depressed in middle age, they are more likely to develop dementia in old age. They are not sure why this connection has been made. You can recover from a mood disorder, but why would it change the brain and make you at risk for dementia?
One thought is that maybe inflammation involved in both depression and cardiovascular disease plays a role.
Another idea is that maybe the stress hormone cortisol is involved. Excess amounts of cortisol produced by depression can affect the part of the brain responsible for memory.
These are simply ideas as researchers have not proven the brain changes found in depression contribute to later dementia.
Perhaps the best advice from this possible connection between mid life depression and old age dementia is to help people, especially the elderly, prevent depression whenever possible.
If you know an older person who struggles with depression–is not eating well, sleeping, not exercising and isolated, get the person help. Depression is treatable and may just save a person’s mind for later life.
For more help with depression, get my small booklet, Breaking Free From Depression
Source: Diniz, Butters, Albert, Dew and Reynolds (2013). Later-life depression and risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of community-based cohort studies, The British Journal of Psychiatry. 202, 329-335