An elderly person alone on a bench

Exploring the Connection: Depression & Memory Loss in the Elderly

Although depression and memory loss are separate conditions, each requiring unique treatment, there are many overlaps and connections between the two. Because both depression and cognitive decline are common in later life, those connections can be hard to untangle.

It is important for providers to carefully differentiate between the two because each can cause the other. Also, early detection and treatment is of the utmost importance.

Studies of depression in young adults have shown that depression can cause memory loss, and similarly, many seniors with memory loss can experience concurrent or resulting depression. The good news for depression and memory loss is that both are frequently treatable conditions. Although any level of cognitive impairment can be scary to experience and witness, there is hope!

The Overlap Between Depression and Memory Loss in the Elderly

Determining the root causes of memory problems can be difficult, as many symptoms of depression and memory loss are shared between the two:

  • Apathy
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Social disconnectedness
  • Isolation
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Impaired thinking

(Alzheimer’s Association)

Can Depression Cause Memory Loss in the Elderly?

In some cases, depression causes memory loss in elderly people. This is occasionally called “pseudodementia”, or apparent cognitive decline. In contrast to true dementia, depression-caused memory loss has its own hallmarks:

  • Rapid mental decline, rather than a gradual loss of thinking skills
  • Lack of disorientation that is common in dementia
  • Difficulty concentrating, instead of short-term memory problems
  • Usual functioning in writing, speaking, and motor skills
  • Awareness of one’s struggle

In some unclear cases of cognitive decline or memory loss, health care providers may recommend trying treatment for depression before ruling it out as a cause. If you are concerned for a loved one, we recommend speaking with their doctor.

(Harvard Health)

Is Severe Depression a Cause of Dementia?

An elderly man laughs with his daughter.

While the relationship between severe depression and memory loss is not predictive of future dementia, it could definitely be a risk factor. Studies have shown conflicting evidence on this topic. However, severe depression and depressive episodes beginning at least ten years before the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease are believed to be red flags for future dementia.

(National Library of Medicine)

Medical and Natural Remedies for Depression and Memory Loss

Depression is usually a treatable disorder, and many cases of memory loss are caused by treatable conditions. Unfortunately, we do know that 9-25% of elderly people with depression-caused pseudodementia do develop irreversible dementia each year. Communication with a health care provider and early diagnosis is vital for good treatment outcomes.

Because depression and memory loss are such common struggles, there are many treatment options available both medically and otherwise.

If you have a loved one struggling with late-life memory issues, their doctor will assess their symptoms to the best of their ability. Diagnosis in these cases can be difficult because of the symptom overlap of depression and dementia, the instability of cognitive symptoms, and the difficulty of remembering one’s symptoms.

Without clear evidence of dementia, many doctors will begin by treating depressive symptoms.

Though some antidepressants may worsen memory issues, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can improve cognitive functioning along with depressive symptoms for those seniors struggling with depression-related memory loss. Non-pharmacologic treatments such as psychotherapy have also been used to good effect for seniors with depression.

Memory care, on the other hand, is a field very specifically catered to individual patient needs. There are three classes of medication for cognitive symptoms:

  • Anti-amyloid treatments target a protein called beta-amyloid that creates plaque in the brain. These medications aim to slow the progression of dementia and reduce cognitive decline. Serious side effects are possible for those with certain genetic risk factors.
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that the brain uses for memory and learning. Side effects are less severe.
  • Glutamate regulators control glutamate, another chemical messenger that helps the brain process information. Again, side effects are less severe than those of anti-amyloid treatments.

(Alzheimer’s Association)

Many of the ways we help our memory care patients at The Moments are non-medical. Our residents enjoy physical and mental activity, social connection, a healthy and varied diet, and excellent on-site care. All of these are important pieces of memory care and quality of life.

We honor our patients with memory loss by providing a low caregiver-to-resident ratio, 24-hour on-site nursing, and a joyful atmosphere. The Moments is focused on individualized caregiving out of respect for each of our unique patients. We believe in providing the best, most loving care possible.

Learn more about our Memory Care services.

Published On: December 20, 2023