Depression Appears to Accelerate Rate of Brain Aging

June 6, 2018

People with depression have a greater rate of brain aging than people without depressive symptoms do, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies published online in Psychological Medicine.

“Results of the present study improve current understanding of the temporal nature of the association between affective problems and decline in cognitive state,” researchers wrote. “They also suggest that cognitive function may need to be monitored closely in individuals with affective disorders, as these individuals may be at particular risk of greater cognitive decline.”

The meta-analysis included 32 studies measuring the impact of depression and 2 studies measuring anxiety over time. More than 71,000 participants were involved, none of whom were diagnosed with dementia.

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While the number of anxiety studies was insufficient to include in the meta-analysis, the depression studies suggested people with depression experience a greater decline in cognitive state during older adulthood than people without depression. Cognitive state spanned memory loss, executive function, and information processing speed.

Noting the preclinical period before dementia diagnosis can last several decades, researchers said the findings highlight the need for early interventions to promote cognitive health in patients with depression.

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“Depression is a common mental health problem. But people living with depression shouldn’t despair,” said researcher Amber John, who conducted the study as a PhD student at the University of Sussex in England.

“It’s not inevitable that you will see a greater decline in cognitive abilities, and taking preventative measures such as exercising, practicing mindfulness, and undertaking recommended therapeutic treatments, such as cognitive behavior therapy, have all been shown to be helpful in supporting wellbeing—which in turn may help to protect cognitive health in older age.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


John A, Patel U, Rusted J, Richards M, Gaysina D. Affective problems and decline in cognitive state in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine. 2018 May 24;[Epub ahead of print].

Depression speeds up brain ageing, find psychologists [press release]. Brighton, England: University of Sussex; May 24, 2018.