Depression is associated with accelerated brain aging, according to a new study by psychologists at the University of Sussex in England.
While previous research has shown that individuals with depression or anxiety have a greater risk for dementia in later life, this new study is the first to provide solid evidence for depression’s impact on the decline in overall cognitive function in the general population.
For the study, the researchers conducted a systematic review of 34 longitudinal studies with a focus on the link between depression or anxiety and decline in cognitive function over time.
The research involved 71,000 participants, including people with some symptoms of depression as well as those who were diagnosed as clinically depressed. The researchers investigated the rate of decline in older participants’ overall cognitive state — encompassing memory loss, executive function (such as decision making), and information processing speed.
Participants who had been diagnosed with dementia at the beginning of study were excluded from the analysis. This was done in order to better evaluate the impact of depression on cognitive aging in the general population.
The findings show that depressed participants experienced a greater decline in cognitive state in older adulthood than did non-depressed participants. Since there is a long preclinical period of several decades before dementia may be diagnosed, the findings are important for early interventions.
The study authors are calling for greater awareness of the importance of supporting mental health to protect brain health in later life.
“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,” said author Dr. Darya Gaysina, a lecturer in psychology and lab lead at the Environment, Development, Genetics and Epigenetics in Psychology and Psychiatry (EDGE) Lab at the University of Sussex.
“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 wellbeing 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.”
“Depression is a common mental health problem — each year, at least one in five people in the UK experience symptoms,” said co-author Amber John, who carried out this research for her Ph.D. at the University of Sussex.
“But people living with depression shouldn’t despair — it’s not inevitable that you will see a greater decline in cognitive abilities and taking preventative measures such as exercising, practicing mindfulness, and undertaking recommended therapeutic treatments, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, have all been shown to be helpful in supporting wellbeing, which in turn may help to protect cognitive health in older age.”
The findings are published in the journal Psychological Medicine.
Source: University of Sussex