Treatable depression often accompanies even mild memory loss

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Symptoms of depression, irritability, and apathy are common among people with mild memory loss, known to doctors as "mild cognitive impairment," and often can be successfully treated, according to researchers who analyzed data from the massive Cardiovascular Health Study.

The researchers from five medical centers including Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center reported in the current Journal of the American Medical Association that their study, based on participants followed for more than 10 years, was the first to show that the appearance of psychiatric symptoms correlate with the development of mild cognitive impairment.

While psychiatric symptoms occur in the majority of persons with outright dementia, "these are the first population-based estimates for neuropsychiatric symptoms in mild cognitive impairment," the group reported. "These symptoms have serious adverse consequences and should be inquired about and treated as necessary."

"Patients complaining of memory loss should be questioned about other symptoms such as depression, irritability, loss of interest in activities, or changes in sleep or appetite," said Beverly N. Jones III, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine (geriatric psychiatry), at Wake Forest, one of the report's authors. "It is important to recognize that these symptoms may be due to changes in brain function, not just emotional reactions to memory decline, and can respond to treatment."

The investigation was a corollary of the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), the largest study ever of the evolution of heart disease and stroke among people over 65 years old. Beginning in 1989, the study enrolled 5,888 participants in roughly equal numbers in four geographically dispersed counties, including Forsyth County (Winston-Salem), N.C., and brought them back annually for follow-up examinations to determine progression of cardiovascular diseases. The study was observational,

Contact: Robert Conn, Mark Wright, Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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