Jun 15
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Senior Woman in Thought

Depression, Anxiety, and the Impact on Cognitive Health

Posted by Oaks Senior Living | 3 minute read

Depression and anxiety can affect individuals at any age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that “about one out of every six adults will have depression at some time in their life.” This is equivalent to 16 million American adults every year.

Depression is much more than simply feeling sad. It affects cognitive functioning that may even cause symptoms similar to dementia. 

Depression and anxiety can be treated and managed, but it is important to understand how they impact cognitive health. As a memory care provider in Georgia,  Oaks Senior Living understands the significance of depression and wants to inform others how this condition can impact cognitive functioning.

What is Depression?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way to think and how you act.”

More than just feeling sad, depression affects all aspects of a person’s life. These effects also may lead to cognitive impairments, and common symptoms can include:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Feelings of anger, irritability, or frustration
  • Loss of interest in things a person once enjoyed
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Slowed thinking and speaking
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering

Symptoms of depression, for many, can affect a person’s day-to-day life. Visit our blog to learn more about Recognizing and Understanding Senior Depression.

Memory Loss and Depression

Like dementia, memory loss is a common symptom of depression; however, depression affects a different part of the memory than dementia. 

A Behavioral Brain Research study found that depression can have an adverse effect on memory interference. During the study, participants with depression had difficulty identifying objects that were identical or similar to an object they had seen previously, implying that depression may cause short-term memory loss.

What separates depression-related memory loss from dementia is that it affects different parts of memory. While dementia also affects short-term memory, it also affects procedural memory – the part of your memory that affects motor skills.

Attention Span and Depression

Individuals living with depression may also have difficulty focusing for longer periods of time. Neuroscience News states, “if you [experience] depression-related attention problems, you may have trouble focusing on one task long enough to complete it.” 

While individuals with depression may experience concentration issues, it is also important to note that antidepressant medications could partially cause these challenges. If your loved one is experiencing a shortened attention span, speak to their physician to determine the cause.

Decision-Making and Depression

Depression and anxiety may also impact an individual’s ability to make decisions – even those as small as what to eat for breakfast. Anxiety makes us feel overwhelmed, so the slightest inconsistencies or decisions can cause a significant amount of stress. 

Individuals with depression can benefit from measures that aim to simplify their day-to-day life. Establishing a routine in which they eat the same thing for breakfast every day and practice the same nightly routine can help remove the need to make these smaller decisions.

Learn How to Manage Feelings of Stress & Anxiety

Treating Depression-Related Cognitive Impairments 

It is important to remember that another condition is causing this decline in cognitive health. Unlike dementia, depression-related cognitive impairments can be treated. Instead of focusing on its symptoms, work with your loved one’s doctor to treat the depression itself. By doing so, you are treating the cause of the symptoms and starting at the root of the issues.

Depression and anxiety affect many areas of an individual’s life, but it is also a significant risk factor for developing a form of dementia. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that individuals with depression had an 83% higher risk of developing dementia than those who did not have depression.

If your family member has depression and anxiety, talk to their doctor and begin to treat their depression as soon as possible in order to prevent further cognitive impairments. To learn more about how we can help, contact a member of our memory care and assisted living team in Georgia.

 Healthy Aging

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