More and more studies are coming out and suggesting that depression is linked to patients developing dementia later on in life. This is particularly true if patients are depressed in their middle ages. However, researchers are still somewhat baffled as to why this is the case.
One researcher from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has spent years trying to figure that out.
“What is it about a mood disorder that is relatively treatable, that people can recover from; what is it in the brain that may increase one’s risk for dementia many years later?” asks Meryl Butters.
Dementia can be caused by strokes and other diseases, and Butters has discovered that the risks for both types of dementia increased substantially in patients who suffered from depression in their fifties. While current research can’t be certain why, there may be some clues since the condition causes an inflammation in the body, which can lead to cardiovascular problems.
“The thickening of blood vessel walls in atherosclerosis makes it difficult for blood to get through to nourish the brain and give the brain all the oxygen that it needs,” Butters says.
Butters also suggests that when people get depressed, they produce excess amounts of cortisol.
“It just so happens that the hippocampus has lots of cortisol receptors,” she notes. “So it may be that if you have high levels of cortisol circulating for long periods of time, they can sort of burn out, for lack of a better term, and die and then the hippocampus shrinks.”
The hippocampus is responsible for the brain’s ability to learn and remember things. When dementia is in its early stages, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to show symptoms. Previous studies have shown that the hippocampus is smaller in patients with depression. More studies will have to be confirmed in order to prove depression’s link to dementia.
SSRIs like Paxil are commonly used to treat depression and are linked to serious adverse effects. In fact, Paxil has been known to cause patients to suffer from violent and suicidal thoughts and behavior as well as lead to birth defects in babies born to mothers who take the pills while pregnant. The birth defects linked to Paxil use include PPHN, spina bifida, neural tube defects, oral clefts and heart, lung and brain defects.