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Depression, anxiety speed up brain aging, Study

In order to safeguard brain function in later life, we need to provide robust support services to people experiencing depression and anxiety, psychologists say


Depression and anxiety have been linked to fast brain aging, a new study has found.

Although scientists have previously reported that people with depression or anxiety have an increased risk of dementia in later life, this is the first study that provides comprehensive evidence for the effect of depression on decline in overall cognitive function (also referred to as cognitive state), in a general population.

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Psychologists at the University of Sussex analyzed over 34 studies featuring more than 71,000 people.

Evidence included people who presented having symptoms of the mental condition, such as low mood as well as those that were diagnosed as clinically depressed. The study looked at the rate of decline of overall cognitive state – encompassing memory loss, executive function (such as decision making) and information processing speed – in older adults.

Moreover, people who were diagnosed with dementia at the start of the research were excluded from the analysis in order to assess accurately the impact of depression on cognitive aging.

The research found that people with depression undergo a greater decline in cognitive skills in older age than those without depression. The findings are important for early interventions as currently there is no cure for dementia disease.

lead authors Dr. Darya Gaysina and Amber John are calling for greater awareness of the importance of supporting mental health to protect brain health in later life.

“This study is of great importance – our populations are aging at a rapid rate and the number of people living with decreasing cognitive abilities and dementia is expected to grow substantially over the next thirty years,” Dr. Gaysina, Psychologist and EDGE Lab Lead, comments.

“Our findings should give the government even more reason to take mental health issues seriously and to ensure that health provisions are properly resourced. We need to protect the mental wellbeing of our older adults and to provide robust support services to those experiencing depression and anxiety in order to safeguard brain function in later life.”

Researcher Amber John, who carried out this research for her PhD at the University of Sussex adds: “Depression is a common mental health problem – each year, at least 1 in 5 people in the UK experience symptoms. But people living with depression shouldn’t despair – it’s not inevitable that you will see a greater decline in cognitive abilities and taking preventative measures such as exercising, practicing mindfulness and undertaking recommended therapeutic treatments, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, have all been shown to be helpful in supporting wellbeing, which in turn may help to protect cognitive health in older age.”

This study Published in the journal Psychological Medicine.



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