A study in the May issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry has concluded that late-life depression is associated with an increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. After conducting meta-analysis on 23 existing studies that studied nearly 50,000 adults over several years, researchers concluded that adults with depression are more than twice as likely to develop vascular dementia and 65 percent more likely to get Alzheimer’s.
Holy crap. Them are some hefty numbers.
This new information kind of puts ticks in two different check boxes for me. I’d read before that depression is relatively common among the elderly population, and in fact, the highest rate of suicide in the United States is among older white men. For many, it’s a continuation of symptoms they’ve had for a large part of their life, but for some, they experience clinical depression for the very first time as an octogenarian or older.
Also, in the past 10 years, I’ve repeatedly heard about the increase in rates and incidence of Alzheimer’s and it certainly feels like almost everyone I know has a relative with dementia. Why, why, why? I’ve been asking myself. (Just like that—“Why, why, why?”) So while I still lean toward the belief that environmental factors—the air we breathe, the food we eat—are contributing to escalating dementia and Alzheimer’s rates, the link between those diseases and depression is like puzzle pieces clicking into place. If you were to have a ‘clicky’ kind of puzzle, that is. And if you do, that would mean you’re probably 5 and don’t really need to worry about this kind of stuff just yet. But yay, you can already read AND search the internet. Way to go, kid.
Anyway, the other reason this study made me go, “Ah” (not “zigizig ah,” just “ah,” because I’m so over my Spice Girls thing) is due to observations of my own mother. She developed dementia unusually early, enough that the staff at her care home calls her “their teenager.” In the 25 years before her admission there, she lived alone, and her years of paranoia and psychosis turned her into an extreme recluse. I’d already drawn the conclusion that she likely had depression as a result of her circumstances, and so again, the link made by the researchers makes sense.
For my mum, dementia obliterated all kinds of unpleasant symptoms of mental illness, so all in all, she’s in a pretty good state of mind now compared to the past. For most people, though, dementia and Alzheimer’s looks and feels like loss—loss of mental acuity, loss of skills and knowledge, loss of the ability to communicate with friends and family. Given the link that was recently presented, our goal, then, would be to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s through better identification of an elderly person’s symptoms of depression so they can get treatment in that area. If you’re interested in reading more on how to exercise this approach, here’s a page from the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation with a bunch of good information and resources.
I’ll end with something from Mick Fleetwood’s closing remarks at Fleetwood Mac’s fantastic concert last night: “Be kind to one another.” That includes the elderly. Let’s not forget them.
Have you had experience getting help for an elderly person with depression? Do you have wisdom or thoughts to share? As always, thank you for contributing to this blog community.