If you are suffering from depression, your day is about to get worse. A new study is out that highlights a possible link between depression and dementia. Depression symptoms such as the feeling of loneliness have, for the first time, been linked to occurrences of dementia.

Elderly are especially at risk according to the new study. What is known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) increases rapidly when the elderly also suffer from depression. MCI symptoms include a rapid decline in thinking and memory skills. These symptoms are known to increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s. Add in depression, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

For those looking after elderly parents, signs of depression include loneliness and loss of appetite. These can serve as warning signs to family members that they are at risk of MCI and Alzheimer’s.

The study is ground-breaking, because it finally links depression as a risk factor for cognitive decline. If doctors can treat the depression, they can hopefully help patients maintain memory and thinking skills well into their old age.

Dr. Robert Wilson, a neuropsychiatrist, talked about this study and previous ones. “Studies have shown that people with symptoms of depression are more likely to develop dementia, but we haven’t known how the relationship works. Is the depression a consequence of the dementia? Do both problems develop from the same underlying problems in the brain? Or does the relationship of depression with dementia have nothing to do with dementia-related pathology?”

The study used 1,764 men and women over the age of 77. Those who developed MCI were more likely to show signs of depression before they were diagnosed with MCI. Patients that were diagnosed with dementia also showed more depressive symptoms before the diagnosis.

The results of the study have been published in the journal Neurology. Study authors concluded that higher levels of depression symptoms was directly “associated with more rapid decline in thinking and memory skills.”

What the research wasn’t able to link was the amount of damage done to the brain and the level of depression. MCI patients had no real decline in depression symptoms after being diagnosed. The reverse was true for dementia patients, as once dementia took hold, the symptoms of depression started to fade away.

What the study shows is that depression is a definite risk factor for cognitive diseases later in life. If the medical community can get out in front of depression, treatments could be developed to extend cognitive function for those entering their golden years.

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