University Of Pittsburgh Research Challenges Belief That Depression And Dementia Are Linked
PITTSBURGH, June 21, 2004 Older people who become depressed are prone to developing dementia, two to four years later. However, new research from the University of Pittsburgh shows that half of depressed elderly patients have significant cognitive problems at the time they are depressed, but the other half do not.
The study, published in the June edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry, builds on results author Meryl Butters, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and her colleagues published four years ago, showing that even after successful depression treatment, elderly patients with depression did not regain the level of cognition they had before they became depressed.
This should be a wake-up call to doctors that when a depressed elderly patient shows up at the office complaining of memory problems, they need to treat the depression and the cognitive problems as two separate disorders, said Dr. Butters.
We realized the cause of these cognitive impairments was due to some other disease process going on under the surface, she said. In this study we took a closer look at the link between cognitive problems and depression and found it is not as strong as previously thought. Being depressed itself does not cause cognitive impairments. If significant cognitive problems exist in an elderly depressed person, they are likely permanent and may worsen over time.
The study of 140 depressed patients 60 years and older is the most comprehensive study to date of the range, type and depth of cognitive impairments in depressed seniors.
This research was supported by U.S. Public Health Service Grants. Additional researchers were: Ellen M. Whyte, M.D.; Robert D. Nebes, M.D.; Amy E. Begley, M.A.; Mary Amanda Dew, Ph.D.; Benoit H. Mulsant, M.D.; Michelle D. Zmuda, B.S.; Rishi Bhalla, Ph.D.; Carolyn Cidis Meltzer, M.D.; Bruce G. Pollock, M.D.; Charles F. Reynolds III, M.D.; and James T. Becker, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic have just begun a follow-up study that hopes to determine what treatments work best to treat depression and either restore or halt cognitive decline in elderly patients.