Depression Put Alzheimer’s on Fast Track

Depression in Alzheimers patients may speed up cognitive and functional decline

March 21, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Depression can make the most on-the-ball people feel like their brains are mush. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, depression may speed up disease symptoms.

A recent study showed that loss of ability to perform daily tasks went hand in hand with loss of memory and the ability to process information. 

These Alzheimer’s symptoms progressed faster in patients with depressive symptoms.

"Tell someone if you’re feeling depressed."

Laura B. Zahodne, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neurology, and Yaakov Stern, PhD, professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, worked together to investigate the influence of depressive symptoms on the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Memory trouble
  • Difficulty understanding and processing information
  • Having a hard time performing daily tasks

According to the study authors, depressive symptoms can be found in up to half of all Alzheimer’s patients. Depression may be a factor in declining ability to perform everyday tasks, regardless of decline in memory, understanding and processing information.

For the study, 517 patients with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease were re-evaluated every six months for 5.5 years. Participants were from hospitals in New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and Paris, France.

“Making a prognosis (prediction of how the disease will progress) for Alzheimer’s disease is notoriously difficult because patients progress at such different rates,” said Dr. Zahodne.

The results of the study showed that Alzheimer’s disease progressed in patients by first affecting memory, understanding and processing of information. These symptoms were then followed by a decline in the ability to perform daily tasks.

Patients with depressive symptoms did not see their depressive symptoms worsen over time. Rather, symptoms remained steady throughout the 5.5 years of follow-up.

Patients with high levels of depressive symptoms had:

  • More trouble performing daily tasks
  • A faster decline in the ability to perform daily tasks over time 
  • A faster decline in memory, understanding and processing information 

The authors concluded that declines in the ability to perform daily tasks, the decline in memory and understanding and the decline in the ability to process information were all related.

The authors suggested that diagnosing depression in patients with Alzheimer’s disease was important, as depression appeared to predict functional decline.

“These results show that not only should we measure patients’ memory and thinking abilities, we should also assess their depression, anxiety, and other psychological symptoms that may affect their prognosis,” said Dr. Zahodne.

This study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The National Institute of Aging, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the National Institutes of Health provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 19, 2013
Last Updated:
March 21, 2013