Research Shows Links Between Depression and Brain Aging
Clinical depression, especially chronic depression, is a serious psychological condition that can have profound effects on an individual’s mind and body. Depression can strike a person at any age and for a variety of reasons. Regardless of when it takes hold, its effects, especially on our ability to think clearly and remember, can be devastating and long lasting.
Doctors, brain scientists, and researchers have long known that depression can have a pronounced effect on the likelihood that an individual develops cognitive issues such as dementia late in their life, but new research is showing that depression has negative effects on overall cognitive abilities and can actually accelerate brain aging in patients.
The Symptoms and Effects of Depression
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is a common and serious mood disorder that can manifest in many ways and develop under a wide variety of circumstances. Its typical symptoms include persistent sadness, feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, irritability, guilt, loss of interest in pleasurable or everyday activities, lack of energy, feelings of restlessness, trouble with concentration and memory, impaired cognitive ability, difficulty sleeping, change in appetite, suicidal ideations, and others.
However, depression – even severe cases of chronic depression – can be treated. Often, patients who begin treatment as early as possible have the best treatment outcomes.
Unfortunately, many who suffer from depression, even chronic depression, do not seek or follow through with treatment. This can lead them to be at higher risk for the long-term neurological effects of depression.
The Link Between Depression and Loss of Cognitive Function
A recent report in the journal Psychological Medicine has linked depression to an overall loss of cognitive function later in life. An exhaustive review of thirty-four studies that provided data on 71,000 patients revealed that a greater overall decline in executive function, memory, and processing speed was experienced later life by those who had experienced depression and chronic depression than in those who had not.
The Link Between Depression and Accelerated Brain Aging
Similarly, research conducted recently by psychological researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK suggests that depression is also associated with a general acceleration of the rate that the brain ages later in life.
These results were also true for patients who had experienced prolonged anxiety issues earlier in life. The study further found that individuals who had suffered bouts of depression were more likely to experience a greater decline in general cognitive state as they aged, than those who had not experienced depression.
Protecting the Brain Against the Long-Term Effects of Depression
Given the latest research into the negative long-term effects of depression on both cognitive ability and the general rate a person’s brain ages later in life, treating depression seems more important than ever before.
Treatment of depression has not as yet been shown to counteract the effects of depression on the brain, but many researchers are calling for a renewed seriousness in the way governments and other organizations approach allocating funds for the treatment of depression to help safeguard the brain.