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A study suggests your emotional health is implicated in the risk factors for developing dementia, rather than just an early symptom

Serious cases of depression can almost double the likelihood of developing dementia, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry by researchers at the University of California San Francisco.

This is the first study to spot a trajectory between increased incidences of depression in a person and higher risk of dementia.

The study looked at 2,488 people in their seventies, who did not have dementia. It then followed these seniors for six years, looking at the number who developed dementia, based on cognitive testing, hospital records and the use of dementia medications.

They spotted three ‘emotional subsets’ amongst the seniors – those with consistently minimal symptoms of depression, those with moderate and increasing symptoms of depression and those with high and increasing symptoms of depression.

Researchers discovered that 21.4% of those with serious depression developed dementia compared to 12.3% with minimal depression symptoms developing dementia.

‘While we cannot rule out that depression may foreshadow dementia as an early symptom, or may be an emotional response to cognitive decline, we found an almost twofold increase among those with high and increasing symptoms,’ says study lead author Allison Kaup, assistant professor at UCSF, clinical research psychologist and neuropsychologist. ‘This suggests that a particular pattern of depressive symptoms may be an independent risk factor.’

What does this mean for people with depression?

‘Our results raise the possibility that older adults’ cognitive health could be improved with interventions to reduce depressive symptoms, such as psychotherapy or other behavioural interventions or medications.’

For more information on how depression can affect memory, click here.