My mom’s dementia diagnosis was confirmed years ago. She was plagued with anxiety and depression early on. In those days, I believed dementia was the chicken and depression was the egg. But a study now shows that depression may come first, prompting the development of dementia.
- Traumatic or upsetting events — These can trigger high levels of anxiety that continue long after the event is over.
- The effects of illnesses or side-effects of medication — Agitation may be caused by pain, hunger or infection, for example.
- Lack of social support or social isolation — This may occur because the person can no longer get out much.
- Bereavement — The loss of a spouse or close friend can change a person’s mental health over night.
- Lack of meaningful things to do — This can cause feelings of boredom and apathy.
- Feeling stressed or worried — Issues such as money, relationships, or fears about the future can incite stress.
- Past history of depression or anxiety
- A genetic predisposition to depression or anxiety
It’s easy to see how early memory loss could be aggravated by these matters. But new research from European scientists suggests that people with such signs of depression may be more likely to get dementia.
Pintoa, Oliveiraa, Ribeiroa, and Fonseca at the Psychiatric Clinic of Mental Health in Portugal reviewed evidence which suggests that depression is a risk factor that may precede dementia. Their findings indicate that depression and dementia produce similar changes in the brain. The authors believe that dementia and depression have shared risk factors or “a common pattern of neurological damage.” Root causes for both can include vascular disease, amyloid plaques, and inflammatory changes.
What does this mean for you and the people you love? If someone in your family has been diagnosed with depression, they may be at higher risk for developing dementia. That uncle who lives by himself, the aunt who never goes out, or the caregiver who won’t take a break — they may need help to see the link between their habits and their health.
It’s hard to change our behavior, even when we know something is wrong. But there are good cheap antidotes that can instantly improve our quality of life. Healthy choices include joining a support group, finding a hobby, or participating in musical activities like choirs and dancing. Basic exercise like walking can help a lot. Make a visit, offer a suggestion. The simplest gesture can often make a difference.