October 2007 - Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center published in The American Journal of Psychiatry has found that depression increases the risk of intellectual decline in older people and can be a predictive factor.
Jeffrey M. Lyness, professor of psychiatry and associate chair for education said:
"We can't conclude that treatment or prevention of depression would reduce or prevent cognitive decline but these findings certainly raise the possibility and that would be our hope."
This innovative study analyzed the roles of depression and intellectual dysfunction over a two year period in a group of 700 people aged 65 and over from private practices and University-affiliated clinics in Monroe County, New York. Researchers measured loss of executive functions involving high-level mental processes, such as decision-making, organizing, planning and completing a sequence of tasks.
Jeffrey Lyness explained:
"You can have a good memory and good language skills but if you lose executive function, you can't do very well in daily life."
Participants were interviewed at home or at the Medical Center to assess cognition, functional status, and depression. Researchers also reviewed each participant's primary care medical chart, focusing on mood and cognitive symptoms or disorders and treatments in addition to past and current medical problems and medications. Further interviews and reviews were conducted one and two years later.
Jeffrey Lyness commented:
"Not every elderly person who is depressed becomes intellectually impaired, but depression raises the risk of executive dysfunction. We began to see it at the one-year mark and it was clear after two years."
The researchers conclude that physicians treating older patients should be aware of the increased risk of loss of mental functions for those who are depressed.
Jeffrey Lyness added:
"The next step is to study whether treatment or prevention of depression can prevent decline in executive function