Depression could lead to the development of dementia. In this edition of Healthy Living, YNN's Katie Gibas tells you what can be done to minimize the risks.
Depression changes the chemicals in the brain which is why researchers now believe depression can be a risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease or another dementia, particularly if the symptoms of depression start after the age of 65.
"Some of the chemicals and nerve pathways that are disrupted when you have depression are very similar to those same disruptions that you can have with dementia," Dr. Sharon Brangman said, the Upstate Hospital Geriatrics Division Director.
According to researchers, when people become depressed, the body produces excess cortisol, which may harm and shrink the hippocampus part of the brain. The hippocampus is responsible for learning and short-term memory and is one of the first regions affected by dementia.
"The brain has a lot of chemicals that all work together to support memory and mood and thought processes and judgment,” Brangman said. “And it could be that in the early stages of depression, those chemical changes can be the signal or the start of something more chronic like Alzheimer's Disease."
Dementia can be caused by a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.
Researchers found that the risk for those types of dementia doubled among people who had suffered from depression after the age of 50. They also said depression causes inflammation in the body and that thickening of the blood vessels makes it harder for the body to pump blood and oxygen to the brain.
"There's increasing information that there are structural changes that happen in a brain that's depressed,” Brangman said. “And there are also structural changes that happen in a brain that has Alzheimer's Disease or a related dementia. And we're looking for the relationship or the link between those two."
Researchers are still trying to determine whether taking anti-depression medications or using other tools to manage depression early on will have any long-term effects on the development of dementia.
Experts recommend a healthy diet, exercise and participating in activities you enjoy to reduce potential risks.