Depression and Short-Term Memory

Depression is a very misunderstood mental condition, and can have devastating effects on the victim and those around them, if gone untreated.

Depressed people lose their ability to concentrate. They have difficulty remembering new information, and research has shown that depressed people only remember negative memories, which leads them to prolong their depression. It also affects executive function. A person with major depression become forgetful, has trouble making decisions, cannot plan a future or organize their thoughts, and have trouble sleeping (either too much or for short periods of time), and starting or completing tasks. That is why you often hear of depressed people sitting in front of the television set 24/7.

One of the brain areas central to depression is the hippocampus, which is responsible for short-term memory. With depression an increase in the production of cortisol goes into the bloodstream and shrinks certain areas of the brain, one of which is the hippocampus.

Those who suffer from depression need to understand a bit about it. It is a mood disorder that can affect everyone in a different way, and for all sorts of reasons. Some victims already have low self-esteem, or are normally pessimistic. Certain tragedies, such as a divorce, death of a loved one, or loss of a job, could set off depression. Some people have a genetic predisposition to mood disorders, and some experience it as a result of drugs or medication.

Excess chemicals being produced in the brain (neurotransmitters) set off a chemical imbalance. This imbalance has an effect on the connections between the brain and the body. This excessive chemical imbalance has been found in the brains of people diagnosed with depression.

If short-term memory is affected it would stand to reason that memories cannot be passed on to long-term memories. “It really comes down to a lack of attention and concentration,” explains Constantine Lyketsos, MD, director of neuropsychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “For example, a depressed man agrees to meet a spouse or friend at a certain address. An hour later, he realizes he has “forgotten” the address. But perhaps due to a lack of attention and concentration-a hallmark of the depressed mental state-he never really formed an enduring memory of the address in the first place.”

One recent study by Finnish researchers consisted of 174 adults with major depression being observed for six months. At the beginning of the study the depressed patients were given several neuropsychological tests of memory, including on their ability to repeat short stories or lists from memory. They performed poorly on these tests. The subjects were given treatment, including medication and/or psychotherapy. At the end of the study the patients who have reduced their depression also reported to have less problem with their memory.

Depression is highly treatable, if the subject wants treatment – many won’t admit they have a problem.  Psychotherapy and medication can help to reduce the symptoms. Unfortunately, some anti-depressant medications can make memory problems worse, putting patients in a “brain fog.” If that happens the medications need to be adjusted to another with different side effects.Â

Scientists are probing the connection between depression and memory-some in hopes of improving treatments, and to understand the connections between mind, mood, and memory. Using brain-imaging techniques, they are even beginning to see some of those connections

Depression leaves scars, and some people suffer for years. It affects their ability to sleep normally, their sex drives and their ability to enjoy simple things. Memory is the biggest casualty, but other functions are also affected. If you know of anyone who is depressed, get him or her help immediately.

From the Desk of Ron White

 

 

Sources:

Discovery – How Can Depression Affect Your Short-Term Memory? http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/depression-affect-short-memory

Memory Loss and the Brain – Depression and Memory: http://www.memorylossonline.com/summer2001/depression.html

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