Article Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

Mental health can impact memory decades later


Apr. 4, 2019 Medical Health

Scientists have already shown that depression and other mental health problems can affect a person’s memory in the short term.

For instance, a study that the journal Cognition and Emotion published in 2016 found that individuals with dysphoria — a persistent sense of unhappiness or dissatisfaction that is often a symptom of depression — had poorer working memory than people without any mental health problems.

Now, however, researchers from the University of Sussex in Brighton, U.K. have found evidence that links experiencing mental health problems throughout adulthood to memory problems at the age of 50 years.

The implications, says study author Darya Gaysina, are that “the more episodes of depression people experience in their adulthood, the higher risk of cognitive impairment they have later in life.”

“This finding highlights the importance of effective management of depression to prevent the development of recurrent mental health problems with long-term negative outcomes.”

Darya Gaysina

In the new longitudinal study, the findings of which appear in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers analyzed the data of 9,385 people born in the U.K. in 1958, which the National Child Development Study (NCDS) has been collecting.

This new study is the first to look at the long-term relationship between mental and cognitive health.

Mental health problems and memory

To date, the NCDS has followed this cohort for more than 60 years, collecting information about each participant’s health at the ages of 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 44, 46, 50, and 55 years.

In addition, these participants reported their affective symptoms at the ages of 23, 33, 42, and 50 years and agreed to take memory and other cognitive function tests when they reached 50 years of age.

Gaysina and colleagues looked at how often the participants experienced mental health symptoms throughout the study period and assessed their performance in terms of memory function at age 50.

The researchers used a word-recall test to assess the participants’ memory, and they also evaluated each person’s verbal memory, verbal fluency, information-processing speed, and information-processing accuracy.

The investigators report their findings in the study paper, writing that the “accumulation of affective symptoms across three decades of adulthood (from age 23 to age 50) was associated with poorer cognitive function in midlife,” and, specifically, with poorer memory.

Although experiencing a single episode of depression or another mood disorder did not seem to affect a person’s memory in midlife, the researchers explain that going through depression and anxiety repeatedly throughout adulthood was a good predictor of poorer cognitive function at age 50.

“We knew from previous research that depressive symptoms experienced in mid-adulthood to late-adulthood can predict a decline in brain function in later life, but we were surprised to see just how clearly persistent depressive symptoms across three decades of adulthood are an important predictor of poorer memory function in midlife,” says the study’s first author Amber John.

Read More on Medical Health

Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund

Apply Today

All Resources

Tell Me More

How to Be Happy

Public policies based on culture are making people happy.

Read More

6 Strategies for Managing Disappointments

How to navigate the aftereffects of rejection.

Read More

5 Good Ways to Construct Habits

Habit formation doesn't need to feel boring or punishing.

Read More

Are We What We Eat? Nutritional Psychiatry and Brain Health

Our brains are hungry. Here's what to eat.

Read More

Happy Fourth of July!

Take some time to connect with loved ones and enjoy some R&R.

Read More

Why Microsoft Measures Employee Thriving, Not Engagement

A new way to support and empower your teams.

Read More

The Truth About Fasting and Type 2 Diabetes

Fasting: fad or century old-tradition?

Read More

Homeownership: Understanding Hidden Costs

Learn more about down payments, closing costs and taxes.

Read More