What If Memory Loss Persists after Depression Improves

In some people with both depression and memory loss, the memory deficit may not improve even after the depression is successfully treated. In such a situation, the memory loss that accompanies depression may be the first sign of Alzheimer's disease. We showed this in a community study of elderly subjects, where the presence of depression conferred a threefold increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease during a follow-up period of up to five years. George Alexopoulos's research group at Cornell reported similar results in hospitalized patients who had both depression and cognitive deficits.

These results seem to run counter to the notion that memory loss is part of the depressive illness itself. The age distribution of the patients in Alexopoulos's and my studies provides a partial solution to this riddle. Our studies were conducted in people who were all more than sixty-five years old, with an average age in the seventy-five-to-eighty-year range. The findings probably do not apply to people in their forties and fifties, as illustrated by Joan Marciano's complete recovery from both depression and memory loss.

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