As you age, the chances that Alzheimer’s will sneak in like a thief in the night and steal your memories grow.
And, like many people you may be on the lookout for warning signs, wondering if it will strike you or a loved one next.
But, while you may know to watch for things like forgetfulness, difficulty following simple instructions, personality changes, and even problems with communication, there’s one sign that you might not know about…
Yup, feeling blue could actually be a sign of cognitive decline.
Here’s what you need to know…
Depression symptoms and brain amyloid
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital started out with a very important idea — that intervening in the development of Alzheimer’s at the pre-clinical stage, before full-blown memory problems appear, has the potential to prevent future decline.
Past research had shown an association between depression and cognitive deficits in older individuals. So, they decided to study the relationship between depression, in otherwise cognitively healthy adults, and brain amyloid (a biological marker of Alzheimer’s) to determine if there is a link between the two
They followed participants of the landmark Harvard Aging Brain Study over a seven-year period and discovered a significant link between worsening depression symptoms and declining cognition over two to seven years. And, they found that those depression symptoms were also linked to higher levels of that cortical amyloid, even when depression symptoms are mild to moderate.
“Our findings offer evidence that in healthy older adults, depression symptoms together with brain amyloid may be associated with early changes in memory and in thinking,” explained Jennifer Gatchel, MD, Ph.D., of the MGH Division of Geriatric Psychiatry, and lead author of the study. “Depression symptoms themselves may be among the early changes in the preclinical stages of dementia syndromes. Just as importantly, these stages represent a clinical window of opportunity for closely monitoring at-risk individuals, and for potentially introducing interventions to prevent or slow cognitive decline.”
In other words, recognizing and targeting depression symptoms could help delay or prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline.
Other factors that play a role
Of course, just because you’re feeling a little depressed, doesn’t necessarily mean that Alzheimer’s is in your future. And, the researchers were quick to point out that not all older adults with depression symptoms and cortical amyloid will experience cognitive problems.
This means that you have to take into account all of your risk factors for the disease, including:
- The volume of your hippocampus (the part of your brain associated with learning and forming new memories)
- High cholesterol
- Family history and genetics
But, be sure to keep in mind that if you’re experiencing depression that it’s a warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored.
Things you can do to help are:
- Exercise – Regular physical activity can help to protect against brain aging and cognitive decline
- Get your zzz’s – Lack of sleep is linked to both depression and Alzheimer’s so be sure to get your eight hours each night.
- Get social – Loneliness can lead to depression and worsen your cognitive symptoms so find time to make and build your social connections.
Clearly, depression symptoms and Alzheimer’s are linked but that doesn’t mean that cognitive decline is inevitable. Be aware of your early warning signs and take the steps above to mitigate your risks.
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
- Depression symptoms in Alzheimer’s could be signs for cognitive decline — EurekAlert!
- Risk factors — Alzheimer Society of Canada
- First Steps | Cognitive Vitality — Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation
- The Complex Relationship Between Sleep, Depression & Anxiety — National Sleep Foundation