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Can Depression Intervention Lower Dementia Risk?

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Depression has long been associated with an increased risk of dementia. A new study now provides evidence that timely treatment of depression could lower the risk of dementia in specific groups of patients.
November 10, 2022 ★ 

More than 55 million people worldwide live with dementia, a disabling neurocognitive condition that mainly affects older adults. There’s currently no effective treatment for dementia. However, finding ways to help minimize or prevent dementia would help to lessen the burden of the disease, reports Medical Xpress’ recent article entitled “Timely interventions for depression might lower the future risk of dementia.”

The study, led by Jin-Tai Yu, MD, Ph.D., Huashan Hospital, Shanghai Medical College, Fudan University, and Wei Cheng, Ph.D., Institute of Science and Technology for Brain-Inspired Intelligence, Fudan University, Shanghai, China, appears in Biological Psychiatry.

Professor Yu and Professor Cheng used data collected by the UK Biobank, a population-based cohort of over 500,000 participants. The current study included more than 350,000 participants, including 46,280 participants with depression. During the study, 725 of the depressed patients developed dementia.

Previous studies looked at whether depression therapies, such as pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy, could lower the risk for dementia produced mixed results, leaving the question unresolved.

"Older individuals appear to experience different depression patterns over time," said Professor Yu. "Therefore, intra-individual variability in symptoms might confer different risk of dementia as well as heterogeneity in effectiveness of depression treatment in relation to dementia prevention."

To address that heterogeneity, researchers categorized participants into one of four courses of depression:

  1. Increasing course, in which mild initial symptoms steadily increase
  2. Decreasing course, starting with moderate- or high-severity symptoms but subsequently decreasing
  3. Chronically high course of ongoing severe depressive symptoms; and
  4. Chronically low course, where mild or moderate depressive symptoms are consistently maintained.

As anticipated, the study found that depression elevated the risk of dementia—by a significant 51% compared to non-depressed participants. However, the degree of risk depended on the course of depression, and those with increasing, chronically high, or chronically low course depression were more vulnerable to dementia, whereas those with decreasing course faced no greater risk than participants without depression.

The researchers most wanted to see if the increased risk for dementia could be decreased by receiving depression treatment. Overall, depressed participants who got treatment saw a reduced risk of dementia compared to untreated participants by about 30%.

When the researchers separated the participants by depression course, they found those with increasing and chronically low courses of depression saw lower risk of dementia with treatment.  However, those with a chronically high course saw no benefit of treatment, in terms of dementia risk.

Reference: Medical Xpress (Oct. 17, 2022) “Timely interventions for depression might lower the future risk of dementia”

Suggested Key Terms: Dementia, Senior Health

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