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Can Late-Life Depression Lead to Dementia?

By HERWriter
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can dementia follow depression that appears later in life? Auremar/PhotoSpin

For women heading into their 50s, the thought of aging can bring some uncomfortable and conflicting emotions to the surface. This is partly due to society and the media’s emphasis on the high value of youth. There are also some potential health concerns as well.

A study found in the journal Public Health suggested that more working-age people (such as people under 55 years old) are suffering from brain diseases like dementia. And the overall number of deaths from brain diseases has risen as well, according to ScienceDaily. Women’s neurological death rates increased more than men’s in most countries as well.

And now mental health’s connection to dementia has been brought into the spotlight by a meta-analysis study from The British Journal of Psychiatry. Researchers used 23 studies to determine that “late-life depression is associated with an increased risk for all-cause dementia, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” according to the study’s conclusion. Researchers add that it would be helpful to focus on “late-life depression prevention” and its effect on dementia risk.

Experts provide tips to help women of all ages lessen their risk for both depression and dementia.

Dr. Samuel T. Gontkovsky, the director of Dementia Therapeutics, said in an email that social isolation is more common for older adults, especially after retirement, when a spouse dies or when children grow up.

“Remaining at home, in particular at home alone, for extended periods generally is not good for a person’s mental health,” Gontkovsky said. “Getting out and being with peers may dramatically improve a person’s emotional state.”

There are community events and activities, as well as volunteering opportunities, that adults can participate in to feel like they have more of a sense of purpose, he said.

Although you may be home alone often at times, it’s also important to not neglect personal hygiene.

“It can be helpful for individuals to come up with reasons to have to leave the home and be in public so that they feel a sense of obligation to groom appropriately,” he added.

Exercise can also combat depression. And if symptoms persist, giving psychotherapy a try is always an option.

Here are some specific tips to help prevent dementia or slow its progression. These tips can also work for people prone to depression.

“Exercising and eating in a healthy way definitely are critical behaviors in this regard,” Gontkovsy said. “Keeping the brain active through sensory and cognitive stimulation also is important.”

It’s wise to limit and manage stress as well, since the immune system can be negatively impacted otherwise.

“I recommend having a preventative mindset, which involves engaging regularly in activities to prevent the development of stress, rather than simply trying to treat it after it already develops,” he said.

“Engaging in daily relaxation strategies, such as diaphragmatic breathing or meditation, can be very effective for some in this regard. Participating regularly in enjoyable recreational activities and remaining socially active also can help.”

Gontkovsy added that a potential explanation for the higher rate of neurological deaths in women is that they have more stressors today than previously, and are expected to juggle a variety of complex responsiblities.

Dr. Paul Nussbaum, the national director of brain health for Emeritus Senior Living, as well as a clinical neuropsychologist, gave a few additional tips via email to ward of depression:

1) “Give of yourself and be compassionate to others. Care for a pet.”

2) “Eat eight ounces of fish a week, as Omega-3s are the ‘good fats’ that
can help alleviate symptoms of depression.”

3) “Get enough sleep to feel rested.”

4) “Try online brain fitness exercises, such as the Fitbrains Trainer
APP, as a way of remaining mentally engaged.”

Although Nussbaum said there is no way to truly prevent dementia, there are steps women can take to slow the onset and progression, such as engaging in physical activity, socializing, eating well, stimulating the brain, and becoming spiritual. Living a healthy lifestyle by minimizing stress, relaxing, sleeping well and breathing properly can be beneficial.

If you take all of the above steps to a “brain-healthy lifestyle,” then your brain is more likely to build up resilience to diseases like dementia, he said.


ScienceDaily. Brain Diseases Affecting More People and Starting Earlier Than Ever Before. Web. May 15, 2013.

Albert, Steven M., and Butters, Meryl A., et. Al. The British Journal of Psychiatry. Late-life depression and risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of community-based cohort studies. Web. May 15, 2013.

Nussbaum, Paul. Email interview. May 14, 2013.

Gontkovsky, Samuel T. Email interview. May 14, 2013.

Reviewed May 16, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.