The Association Between Depression And Cognitive Decline

Clinical depression can be associated with confusion and cognitive impairment. Processing speed, creativity, memory, and mental focus can be compromised in the setting of depression. If you can relate, you’re not alone! Treatment for depression, as well as social support and compassion, can be a way to improve cognitive function.

Cognitive Awareness

The link between depression and changes in cognition is well known to mental health practitioners, but perhaps not as well known to patients and their families. In a recent review, the authors mention that until fairly recently, mental health practitioners may not have given as much attention to the cognitive impairment as to the depression itself. 

According to the review by Potter and co-authors, multiple episodes of depression (or those of a long duration) may increase the risk for subsequent development of dementia. Patients who suffer from this combination of depression and cognitive impairment are less likely to have a positive outcome after treatment. But don’t lose hope! Recognize that if you don’t feel your mind is quite what it “should” be, you still deserve to be kind to yourself. And to keep finding the best ways to treat your depression which can make the cognitive changes more manageable.

The cognitive changes that can accompany major depression include impaired executive function, learning, memory, and attention, as well as reduced speed in processing information, decreased performance in the workplace, and poor psycho-social skills. Even if the depression is treated successfully, persistence of the cognitive changes may make it difficult for patients to return to the life they had before developing these symptoms.

Screening for Cognitive Decline 

One problem facing the physician treating someone who might have cognitive disturbances associated with major depression is the lack of screening tools designed specifically for this problem. Many tests to evaluate neurocognitive changes are available; there are several neurological disorders that result in cognitive changes which use them. However, tests are needed that specifically target changes in cognition that arise in conjunction with major depression.

Meds for Cognitive Impairment

Traditional medications that effectively treat major depression are, with a few exceptions, unable to treat the cognitive changes. The mood changes may respond to these treatments, but the patient with cognitive deficits may be unable to resume work, or perhaps even carry out adequate self-care. However, some drugs, such as Duloxetine and Vortioxetine, may be of help.

Nutrition Matters

For those with cognitive impairment and significant depression, getting adequate nutrition is important since a wholesome diet with unprocessed foods, fruits, vegetables, fiber, and healthy fats is associated with fewer mental health issues. However, for those experiencing depression, getting adequate nutrition can be challenging, especially if they are living alone and or having difficulties with self care in general. Mental health disorders are associated with malnutrition and, conversely, malnutrition is associated with mental and cognitive disorders. Proper nutrition can certainly help.

Social Support and Compassion

According to NAMI, it is important for patients and their families to be aware of the dual disorders of depression and loss of cognitive skills so that proper intervention, including social support, can be implemented. Practicing compassion and self-compassion is what the doctors ordered! 


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