MIAMI — One more reason to take extra care of your mental health, especially on the hard days: Depression among older adults may lead to faster brain aging and memory problems, according to a new study.
The study also revealed that elderly people with depression have slightly different brain structures compared to those without depression symptoms.
Researchers from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine examined 1,111 adults about 70 years old who haven’t suffered from strokes. They were all given brain scans, psychological exams, and memory assessment tests. They were tested again five years after the first tests.
Based on standard tests for depression, the researchers determined that 22% of the participants were suffering from the condition or had some symptoms of it at the start of the study. They found that those who had greater symptoms fared worse on tests of episodic memory, which includes memories of experiences and significant events throughout life.
“Since symptoms of depression can be treated, it may be possible that treatment may also reduce thinking and memory problems,” says study author Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri in an American Academy of Neurology press release. “With as many as 25 percent of older adults experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to better understand the relationship between depression and memory problems.”
The researchers also found that those who suffered from depression had differences in brain structure, such as smaller brain volume and a 55% chance of developing small, vascular lesions on the brain.
“Small vascular lesions in the brain are markers of small vessel disease, a condition in which the walls in the small blood vessels are damaged,” adds Zeki Al Hazzouri. “Our research suggests that depression and brain aging may occur simultaneously, and greater symptoms of depression may affect brain health through small vessel disease.”
The authors did not find a connection between depression symptoms and thinking skills for participants, though because the study period was only five years, it may not have been a long enough trial to get an accurate snapshot.
The full study was published May 9, 2018 in the journal Neurology.