What Is the Connection between Depression and Cognitive Impairment?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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The connection between depression and cognitive impairment is well known. It is most commonly associated with major depression, but mild to moderate depression can cause some cognitive impairment as well. Depression causes chemical changes in the brain, and affects the neurotransmitters that are known to regulate the mood, including serotonin and dopamine; these neurotransmitters do not just impact one's mood, however, but they can also lessen cognitive abilities. As a result, depression and cognitive impairment can make it difficult to pay attention or focus on the task at hand, more challenging to remember things, and make it impossible to think quickly or make decisions on the spot.

It is important that individuals, as well as physicians and mental health practitioners, recognize and understand the connections between depression and cognitive impairment, because they are real and can be very frustrating to people undergoing treatment. Problems with memory and concentration are two of the most common symptoms of the issues with depression and cognitive impairment. People may find it difficult to listen to others or to concentrate while at work, or may have trouble recalling information they learned previously. Getting distracted in the middle of a task and forgetting to complete it are common as well.


In addition, individuals with depression and cognitive impairment frequently feel as if they are just thinking slowly. They may perceive that other people are talking too quickly for them to understand, and may find it a challenge to keep up with conversations. If they are forced to make a decision, solve a problem, or quickly respond, they may find it a difficult or impossible task. All of these issues can quickly impact work and relationships, so it is important to discuss these issues with a psychiatrist or psychologist in order to receive treatment. This may include different medication, or practicing particular activities and skills to improve cognitive function.

Elderly people with depression are more likely to experience cognitive impairment than any other group; this can lead to health issues or other problems due to behavioral changes caused by the confusion and lack of concentration. It may also make it more likely that an individual will have Alzheimer's disease or dementia later in life. In the case of elderly people, however, it can be difficult to determine how much of the cognitive impairment is caused by depression, and how much is a result of simple aging, which can make the condition more difficult to treat.


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