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Young adult depression linked to worse memory skills

Depression experienced in adolescence is linked to worse thinking and memory skills in middle age, a recent study has revealed.

This finding adds to the growing body of evidence that mental health issues early in life can have long-term consequences on cognitive functions.

The study sheds light on how prolonged depression can impact cognitive health, particularly among Black adults.

Depression and declining memory

Led by Dr. Leslie Grasset from the University of Bordeaux in France, the study involved 3,117 participants with an average age of 30 at the start. The cohort was nearly evenly split, with 47% being Black and 53% white.

Over a 20-year period, participants were evaluated for depressive symptoms every five years. They completed questionnaires that assessed changes in appetite, sleep, concentration, and feelings of worthlessness, sadness, or loneliness. Higher scores indicated more severe depressive symptoms.

Participants were divided into four groups based on their symptom progression: persistently low symptoms, medium decreasing, persistently medium, or high increasing symptoms.

Notably, Black participants were disproportionately represented in the persistently medium and high increasing groups, with 52% and 70%, respectively.

Depression impacts memory skills

At an average age of 55, participants underwent three tests to assess their thinking and memory skills.

One such test measured processing speed and memory by having participants match symbols to numbers as quickly as possible.

Scores ranged from zero to 133, with lower scores indicating worse cognition. The results showed that those with persistently low symptoms had an average score of 73, while those with high increasing symptoms of depression averaged 57.

After adjusting for factors like age, physical activity, and cholesterol levels, significant differences were found.

Black participants in the high symptom group scored 0.64 standard deviations below those in the low symptom group.

Among white participants, the high symptom group scored 0.40 standard deviations lower than their low symptom counterparts.

Verbal memory and cognitive function

The study also standardized scores for verbal memory, processing speed, and executive function tests, adjusting for education, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Black participants with high and medium depression had notably worse memory and cognitive scores compared to those with low symptoms.

Similarly, white participants with high depressive symptoms showed poorer verbal memory and processing speed.

“Our results suggest that Black adults are not only more likely to experience worse depressive symptoms trajectories, but these symptoms may lead to worse repercussions on thinking and memory as early as middle age. This may help explain some of the disparities in dementia risk at older age,” noted Dr. Grasset.

Socioeconomic inequalities

The study highlights the need to consider racial inequalities when designing interventions to reduce dementia risk.

“Having more depressive symptoms may be due to inequalities in socioeconomic resources such as housing and income, as well as access to health care and treatment,” said Dr. Grasset.

“Racial inequalities should be accounted for when designing interventions to reduce a person’s risk of dementia.”

Depression and memory data

One limitation of the study is that depression was self-reported, and no clinical diagnosis of depression was available.

This means some participants might not have accurately reported their symptoms, potentially affecting the results.

Overall, this study underscores the importance of addressing mental health issues early in life and considering racial and socioeconomic factors in healthcare interventions to mitigate long-term cognitive decline.

Tips for handling depression

When you feel depressed, it’s crucial to seek help and take care of yourself. Start by talking to someone you trust, like a friend, family member, or counselor.

Sharing your feelings can provide relief and support. Consider seeking professional help from a therapist or doctor, who can offer guidance and treatment options like therapy or medication.

Engage in activities that you enjoy and that can lift your mood. Regular exercise, even a short walk, can boost your spirits. Maintain a healthy diet and get enough sleep. Avoid alcohol and drugs, as they can worsen depression.

Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to manage stress. Stay connected with loved ones and participate in social activities.

Remember, it’s okay to take small steps and be patient with yourself. If you ever feel overwhelmed or have thoughts of self-harm, seek immediate help from a crisis hotline or emergency services. You are not alone, and help is available.


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