Depression Alzheimer's Link: Does it Matter?
Depression may--may!--lead to Alzheimer's. Or maybe depression and Alzheimer's are both triggered by the same unidentified underlying problem. Both of these possibilities arise from a new report on the links between depression and Alzheimer's in the journal Neurology.
Three things you need to know:
1. The study shows that people with early-life (prior to 60) depression have a nearly four-fold risk of developing Alzheimer's later in life than people with no depression history. People who had later-in-life depression (60-plus) were two times as likely. Current depressive symptoms at the time of the self-report (adults aged 60 to 90 were studied) were not linked to greater risk.
2. This is one of those studies which, while rigorously done by credible people and published in a major journal, yields more of an "interesting observation that requires more research" than a "they've nailed this connection cold." Why? History of depression was based on self-reports. The study group was large but not big enough to produce conclusive results.
3. So what does this mean for caregivers or older adults? This gets dicey. Should someone with early-in-life diagnosed depression brace for Alzheimer's? Would it do any good? Should a caretaker be aware of incidence of previous depression as a sign of greater risk of Alzheimer's? The observations (remember they are not conclusions) may be more valuable to clinicians who are evaluating older adults for possible Alzheimer's--another factor to look at when considering risk.
Meantime, of course, remember that depression is a serious illness that needs attention--and not because it may be linked to Alzheimer's.