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Depression in Seniors Increases the Risk of Dementia

News June 23rd, 2015
depression-in-seniors-increases-the-risk-of-dementia

“Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.”

-Gretchen Rubin

Dementia is a collection of symptoms most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. The symptoms include:

  • Wandering
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Inability to reason (loss of judgement)
  • Loss of language

Many of these symptoms lead to other egregious diseases and disorders. Many suffering dementia may overmedicate, both with prescription drugs and alcohol (as they may not remember their last drink).

More evidence is showing that depression in seniors increases the risk of dementia.

Depression is an emotional disorder that can lead to suicide (1 in every 10 people suffering depression commits suicide). Depression can be brought on by anything, but most commonly loss or pessimistic views about the future (both of which are very common in the elderly). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms include:

  • Persistent feelings of fatigue
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Difficulty making decisions (loss of judgement)
  • Loss of interest in familiar activities
  • Persistent feelings of pain, aches, headaches
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Sleeping too much or too little (insomnia)
  • Eating too much or too little

Depression can cause dementia in seniors for numerous reasons.

              Weakens the Immune System

Stress has been proven to lower the number of white blood cells and T cells, both of which ward of infections and diseases. Depression is another form of stress that causes this to happen. Not having a strong immune system puts seniors at a higher risk of dementia, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Scarily enough, with the immune system in a weakened state, even simple viruses (like the common cold) can cause hospitalization – and, as you can imagine, this doesn’t help seniors battling depression.

              Increased Chance of Harmful Behavior

With impaired judgement and a pessimistic look on the future, seniors are more likely to engage in risky behavior. Taking harmful drugs with alcohol or discontinuing taking their prescription drugs are just two of the ways that they put themselves at risk.

              Senior Isolation

This one is the most influential in depression leading to dementia. ‘Mankind is a social animal,’ we’ve known this for years, it’s why being antisocial is a personality disorder – it is not normal. Being social engages areas of the brain that are otherwise unused. This is why socialization combats dementia and memory loss problems.

When you engage in new activities (i.e. break away from routine), you strengthen your memory branches. Those branches thicken as you repeat the activity until it becomes routine. At that point, you’re no longer increasing your memory’s capabilities, so you need to pick up another new activity.

Having a wealth of variety (as you’re guaranteed to have with socialization) improves your memory and subsequently your mental health. If you’re not mentally stimulated and continue to live in isolation, you’re more likely to enmesh yourself in routine. Routine becomes rote and can easily lead to feelings of depression, which in turn can lead to dementia.

Look at centenarians (people who live to 100) and you’ll see that the majority have large social groups; that’s not simply a correlation, it’s causation.

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