Depression can get in the way of many daily activities. It may make it hard for one to go to the gym, socialize with others, or even get out of bed.
Depression doesn’t just affect how one feels, but it can also impact how one thinks.
A 2018 analysis of studies reported that of the people self-reporting depressive symptoms, there were a substantial amount of memory complaints. It has been noted elsewhere that depression affects regions of the brain, such as the hippocampus, thalamus and amygdala, which can be correlated to memory disruption.
Under chronic depression, the hippocampus has been seen to shrink anywhere from 9% to 13%. This same part of the brain can be associated with memory creation of both declarative memories and spatial relationship memories. The amygdala helps process emotions, which are associated with how we perceive and recall memories.
How Depression Interferes with Memories
Certain types of memories may be more affected than others by depression.
Different types of memories can include:
- Procedural memories — that refer to knowledge of skills, performing tasks, and other “muscle memory” type abilities.
- Declarative memories — that refer to facts or memories of past events. They may be from a personal event or be information of the greater world. They may also be futher broken down into subtypes: semantic, episodic, autobiographical, or spatial memories.
- Implicit memories — refer to memories that we may remember unconsciously and may be expressed through our behaviors. These memories may influence us through conditional learning and stimulus priming effects.
- Explicit memories — refer to memories that are consciously remembered and recalled from long-term memory storage.
Since we process memories through our prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, lowered function in these areas might mean that our long-term memory encoding may be negatively influenced. This could be thought of as a sort of depression-induced amnesia.
Research on Depression-Induced Memory Loss
One 2018 study states in its results that depressive symptoms show, “a robust relationship with self-reports of memory complaints, even after adjusting for age, sex, general cognitive ability and symptoms of anxiety.” though this study found no significant relation to hippocampal volume, depressive symptoms were still related to poorer memory scores.
Another 2013 study suggests the remediation of cognitive impairment and depressive symptoms may be an important factor in improving treatment outcomes in depressed patients.
Some scientists even argue that there may be a link between depression and dementia. A 2010 review suggests that, while far from conclusive, depression may be a risk factor for developing dementia later in life. The history of depression correlates to nearly doubles the risk of developing dementia.
This same review states that cognitive impairment and depression may share similar symptoms and that the use of tricyclic antidepressants may actually further cognitive impairment. However, with the use of newer antidepressants such as SSRI’s this may be less likely to happen.
Managing Memory Loss
Brain health is mental health, and mental health is health. It is important we take care of our bodies and mind, treating them as much of the same.
Some activities that might improve your cognitive health can include:
- Challenging your mind with a puzzle
- Playing card games
- Enriching your vocabulary
- Dancing or performing other challenging bodily movements
- Engaging your senses through cooking — touching, tasking, hearing, seeing and tasting all-together
- Playing or listening to music
- Learning a new language
When Depression and Memory Loss Become a Problem
If you have been struggling with depression and have gone through standard treatments such as medications and talk therapy without success, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) may be right for you.
TMS is a solution for treatment-resistant depression that stimulates areas of the brain associated with mood, relieving symptoms of depression. TMS has the ability to put depression into remission and strengthen the brain’s ability to produce a positive mood. For this use, it is FDA-Approved and now covered by most insurance plans.
There is also evidence suggesting that TMS may be able to effectively treat dementia and enhance cognitive ability. Though the use of TMS as a treatment in these two areas is considered off-label use and hence not covered by insurance, nor is it FDA-approved.