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New study links specific course of depression symptoms to dementia risk

A study of different patterns of depression in older adults found that those with steadily increasing depression symptoms had higher risk of developing dementia.

Depression late in life has already been linked to increased risk of dementia, but since depression follows different patterns, the researchers wanted to see if those patterns affected dementia risk.

The study looked at five different trajectories of depression symptoms:

  • low: low depression symptoms throughout the study (2441 people)
  • decreasing: moderately high depression symptoms that decreased over time (369 people)
  • remitting: low depression symptoms than increased, and then decreased again (170 people)
  • increasing: low depression symptoms that steadily increased over the study period (255 people)
  • high: high depression symptoms that continued throughout the study period (90 people)

The low group was used as the comparison for the other four groups. The study did not compare dementia risk in people with depression to people who did not have depression.

Researchers led by Dr. M. Arfan Ikram at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands studied 3325 participants of the ongoing Rotterdam study who had depressive symptoms during at least one of their periodic assessments between 1993 and 2004. Sixty per cent of the participants were women.

The researchers followed this group for another 10 years, during which 434 people developed dementia. Most of these cases (348) were Alzheimer’s disease.

When they compared the other four depression trajectories to the low trajectory, the researchers found that only the increasing trajectory was associated with a higher risk of dementia. In the increasing trajectory group, the risk of dementia was 42 per cent higher than the low trajectory group.

The study authors note that these results indicate that a specific pattern of depression may be associated with higher dementia risk. They also suggest the possibility that this pattern – low depression symptoms that begin late in life and increase steadily – may in fact be a very early symptom of dementia. Other patterns – such as an episode of depression followed by recovery – may not be associated with increased dementia risk.

The study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry on April 29, 2016.


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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital