Navigate Up

UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Patients and medical professionals may call 1-800-533-UPMC (8762) for more information.

Charles F. Reynolds III, M.D.

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. Ho​wever, 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.​

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA |