Study examines link between depression and memory among seniors

Depression is more common among seniors than most people may think. Studies have suggested that anywhere between 14 and 20 percent of the elderly population experiences symptoms of depression. Now, new research indicates that the condition may have a greater impact than originally believed. Scientists from Brigham Young University found that adults with depression may experience problems with their memory, according to recent findings published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research.

A clearer picture
While previous studies have established a link between depression and cognitive function, these new findings provide a greater understanding of why that link exists in the first place. To get a better idea of this relationship, researchers asked participants with depression, as well as those without the condition, to complete a memory test meant to assess how accurately they could identify similar images. The team found that subjects with depression experienced greater issues pinpointing which objects they had seen before.

“There are two areas in your brain where you grow new brain cells,” said Brock Kirwan, a professor at BYU and one of the study’s authors. “One is the hippocampus, which is involved in memory. It turns out that this growth is decreased in cases of depression.”

Treatable issue
Unlike other health issues plaguing seniors – Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s – depression can be treated, often through changes to lifestyle. For instance, exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health, according to the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, focusing on social interaction can help older adults stave off depressive symptoms that can creep up later in life. In fact, recent studies have suggested that socializing is one of the most important keys to healthy aging.

The research, performed by experts from Statistics Canada, investigated the relationship between the number of social activities seniors participated in and their self-perceived health, loneliness and life dissatisfaction. They found that the greater the number of activities seniors participated in, the more likely they were to view their well-being in a positive light.

“This is consistent with research that has found seniors with a wider range of social ties have better well-being,” said researcher Heather Gilmour, who works in Statistics Canada’s health analysis division, according to CBC News.