As we and our loved ones age, it’s reasonable to occasionally forget things—we all do it at some points. However, memory loss, which is defined as “unusual forgetfulness” in both short-term and long-term functions, is not.
Memory loss is often automatically associated with Alzheimer’s disease, a medical issue that impacts over five million Americans alone every year. Memory loss may be a primary symptom of Alzheimer’s, but just because an elderly person is experiencing memory loss, it does not mean he or she has the disease. There are often outside forces and other brain diseases that fuel the degrading of the brain’s cognition. But, what if something like Alzheimer’s wasn’t the only thing linked to memory loss?
According to a new study from the University of Sussex in England that was recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, scientists have newly discovered that depression and memory issues may be linked, after all. Researchers analysed data that followed 18,000 people from birth through their 50s. The data suggested that those who experienced multiple episodes of depression in their 20s, 30s, and 40s were more likely to have memory issues beginning in their 50s. While a single episode of depression had little effect in the memories of those studied, two or three episodes over three decades predicted a decrease in memory function by age 50. The study suggested that the findings are important because episodes of depression experienced in early adulthood could predict dementia later in life.
“Treating depression earlier (and preventing its recurrence) can decrease the likelihood of cognitive deficits later in life. It’s a strong argument for the effective treatment of depression (whether by antidepressant medications or evidence-based psychotherapy),” Dr. Bradley Gaynes M.D., M.P.H., a professor and the associate chair of research training and education in the department of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine said in a statement.
“We found that the more episodes of depression people experience in their adulthood, the higher risk of cognitive impairment they have later in life. This finding highlights the importance of effective management of depression to prevent the development of recurrent mental health problems with long-term negative outcome,” Dr. Darya Gaysina, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex, said in a press release.
The research also emphasises the importance of making mental healthcare accessible to everyone. “With the publication of this research, we’re calling for the government to invest in mental health provision to help stem the risk of repeated episodes of depression and anxiety. From an individual’s perspective, this research should be a wake up call to do what you can to protect your mental health,” University of Sussex Psychology Ph.D. student Amber John said in the press release.
According to yet another study that was published in the journal Neurology, scientists also found that depressive episodes contributed to loss of episodic memory — the ability to connect related events. While that is a scary thought, the good news is that Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada has been researching new medications that may be able to reverse this memory loss.
Though it’s not yet completely 100 percent clear on how depression contributes to cognitive decline, Health line has since reported in a medically reviewed article that there are four ways depression can physically change the brain. Some studies have shown that those who experience depressive episodes could have shrinkage in certain areas of the brain. While these studies highlight the importance of early treatment for depression, a new report from Born This Way Foundation found that 50 percent of U.S. young people ages 13 to 24 alone feel like they don’t have access to mental healthcare, which brings up a new concern – Why not?