Depression May Lead to Dementia in Elderly Patients

Many older adults who experience depression may see their risks for developing Alzheimer’s and dementia increase, according to a recent article in the New York Times. This is a serious issue for patients in nursing homes and other elder care facilities. While elder abuse and neglect can take many forms, the failure to provide for a patient’s mental needs, such as depression, may constitute neglect.

Statistics on Depression and Alzheimer’s Disease

The New York Times article reported that current research suggests that “late-life depression” has not only led to increased risks for “social isolation, poorer health, and an increased risk of death,” but it also may lead to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of vascular dementia. With an increasingly large population of older adults, these facts are concerning.

In fact, according to research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, depressed older adults aged 50+ “were more than twice as likely to develop vascular dementia and 65 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease” than other similarly aged adults who didn’t suffer from depression. These numbers are the result of a study that included nearly 50,000 older adults over an approximately five-year span.

What do the numbers mean in terms of how many people will develop dementia? The numbers suggest that “36 of every 50 older adults with late-life depression may go on to develop vascular dementia,” and “31 of every 50 seniors with a history of depression may eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”

This news shouldn’t come as a complete shock, since a 2012 study in General Psychiatry reported similar findings. In that study, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that people with depression during the ages of 40 to 55 seem to have an increased risk of developing dementia by about 20 percent, while those who suffer from depression at age 55+ appear to increase their risk of developing dementia by about 70 percent. For adults who suffered from depression in both midlife and late-life stages, their risk of developing dementia was reported to increase by nearly 80 percent, compared with others who showed no signs of depression.

These numbers all seem staggering. Should nursing homes and other elder care facilities be more attuned to depression and its dangerous effects?

Does Depression Cause Alzheimer’s?
The British Journal of Psychiatry study emphasized that there is no causal relationship between depression and dementia, and that there’s “no solid evidence yet” that treating depression early on can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

However, while the researchers emphasized that they can’t say for certain that late-life depression is a direct cause of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, they can certainly say that it’s a factor that contributes to these diseases. In fact, Meryl Butters, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said that “depression is toxic to the brain, and if you’re walking around with some mild brain damage, it will add to the degenerative process.” In short, increasing the quality of life for older adults can be beneficial to their long-term physical and mental health.

In particular, these findings suggest that mental health care for older persons in nursing homes and assisted living facilities can be extremely important. If you suspect that a parent or elderly loved one has been the victim of elder neglect, an experienced nursing home attorney can discuss your case with you today.

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