Depressed Adults See Higher Risk of Dementia as Seniors

Large study sees a link, though not an explanation as to why
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 30, 2023 2:55 PM CDT
Young People With Depression May See Higher Dementia Risk
   (Getty Images / Piksel)

Young adults and those in middle age who are dealing with depression appear to have a higher risk of another serious issue later in life: dementia. A new study in JAMA Neurology found that those diagnosed with depression between the ages of 18 and 59 were 2.4 times more likely to develop dementia in their 60s and beyond, reports USA Today. CNN reports that epidemiologist Dr. Holly Elser and her co-authors at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed data on more than 1.4 million Danish subjects spanning more than 40 years—1977 to 2018. The study tracked individuals with—or without—a diagnosis of depression and the development of dementia symptoms, while accounting for variables such as education, income, and physical ailments.

"Our study simply demonstrated the presence of a relationship, but doesn't explore mechanisms," said Elser, meaning the team found only an association between the two ailments, not an explanation of why the association exists. "Depression may increase dementia risk through alterations in levels of key neurotransmitters, or depression may lead to changes in health behaviors that in turn increase risk for dementia," said Elser, adding that future studies may zero in on this. The study also found that the link appeared to be stronger in men than in women, per WebMD, another topic for future study.

Elser said that there needs to be additional research into how medication and therapy can help, as past research indicated seniors who went to therapy did see a reduction in anxiety and depression, potentially reducing the possibility of a future slide into dementia. The researchers could not determine whether younger people who seek treatment might reduce their risk for dementia later. Still, "our paper further underscores the importance of managing depression clinically when it arises because it may have echoes throughout the life course," said Elser. (More dementia stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.