According to new research, the complex relationship between symptoms of depression and losses in memory can team up later and lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
The new data imply that depression symptoms themselves may be among the early changes in the pre-clinical stages of dementia syndromes. The study was conducted by lead author Dr. Jennifer Gatchel. Dr. Gatchel works in the division of geriatric psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital of Boston.
In the study, the researchers examined brain scans and other data collected over seven years from 276 older adults participating in the Harvard Aging Brain Study. All of the participants were considered healthy as they were living independently in the community at the beginning of the study.
The study revealed a noticeable link between the deteriorating depression symptoms and mental health issues over two to seven years, and both of these trends are expected to be linked to a collection of amyloid protein in the brain tissue. The slow build-up of amyloid is being known as an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our research found that even modest levels of brain amyloid deposition can impact the relationship between depressive symptoms and cognitive [thinking] abilities,” Gatchel said in a hospital news release.
The new study might be helpful for further research on dementia.
The new idea that depression symptoms might be a part of Alzheimer’s development process could further research into the prevention and treatment of the disease, she further added.
It “raises the possibility that depression symptoms could be targets in clinical trials aimed at delaying the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” Gatchel said, so “further research is needed in this area.”
The researchers explained that not every older adult with depression and amyloid buildup will have memory loss and thinking declines. That suggests that other factors like brain metabolism, or the volume of the brain’s memory center, the hippocampus, could link to depression.
Other mechanisms, which include brain degeneration caused by the protein tau (a protein associated with Alzheimer’s), high blood pressure and inflammation, might contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and need to be studied further.
In conclusion, the study suggests that depression could have various causes and might also “work synergistically with amyloid and related processes to affect cognition over time in older adults,” Gatchel said. Other experts in brain health also agreed that the study could further help in dementia research and treatment.