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Depression May Help Spur Mental Decline

One out of five depressed seniors showed evidence of impairment, study found

WEDNESDAY, March 8, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Depression may speed age-linked cognitive decline, researchers report.

Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco found that depressed seniors are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment within six years than those who are depression-free.

The more severe the depression, the greater the risk of the mental decline, according to the study, which appears in the March issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study included 2,220 people 65 and older. At the start of this study, participants were checked for symptoms of depression. Six years later, they were assessed for cognitive impairment.

The researchers found that close to 20 percent of those with moderate to high depression at the start of the study had developed cognitive impairment after six years, compared to just over 13 percent of those who had mild depressive symptoms and 10 percent of those who had no symptoms of depression.

"This is important, because mild cognitive impairment often precedes dementia," study lead author Deborah Barnes, a mental health researcher at SFVAMC, said in a prepared statement.

She said family members and health providers should pay attention when an older adult shows signs of depression.

"Even if they don't have cognitive impairment at that time, our study suggests that you probably want to keep an eye on them. Depression might be an early sign of neurodegeneration -- in fact, it might be the first symptom that a family member notices," Barnes said.

The study also found no correlation between depression and vascular disease. The authors said this was a significant finding because other researchers have suggested that vascular disease may cause inadequate blood flow to different areas of the brain, resulting in depression and cognitive impairment.

"We found no evidence to support that hypothesis," Barnes said.

More information

The American College of Physicians has more about depression.

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, March 6, 2006
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