Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Depression Health Center

Font Size

Too Depressed to Remember

Why are many elderly people forgetful? It may be the blues.

continued...

But there's no strong evidence that the hippocampus shrinks as a part of normal aging. In one recent study, Yvette Sheline, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the hippocampus of 48 women aged 23 to 86, half of whom had a history of clinical depression, half of whom did not.

The women with depression had smaller hippocampuses and scored lower on memory tests than the non-depressed group, regardless of age.

"We expected to see an effect from aging. Instead we saw significant volume loss only in patients with a history of depression," says Sheline, whose study was published in the June 14, 1999 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"Research shows that when depression is treated, cognitive function, including memory, improves. The earlier we can recognize the symptoms, the more likely we are to arrest or slow down the degeneration of the brain," McEwen says.

Still, more studies are needed to fully understand the connection between emotions and memory, cautions Mony de Leon, a psychiatrist and professor at New York University's medical school. The cortisol-hippocampus research is an exciting start, he says, but much remains a mystery.

For example, researchers haven't yet determined what, if any, role cortisol plays in Alzheimer's disease. Studies show all people with Alzheimer's have hippocampal damage, but their cortisol production varies. "All of these things remain somewhat foggy," says de Leon. "It requires much more extensive investigation."

As for Cusenza, no one has any plans to measure her hippocampus. Such tests are rarely done, and they would tell doctors little because it wasn't measured before the onset of her symptoms. Still, her family is hopeful that treating her depression will put a halt to her slide into forgetfulness -- and dependence.

Kate Rauch has written about medicine for The Washington Post, Newsday, and many other publications. She lives in Albany, Calif.

1|2

Today on WebMD

Male patient in session with therapist
Article
Depressed looking man
Article
 
mother kissing newborn
Slideshow
depressed woman at work
VIDEO
 
Woman taking pill
Article
Woman jogging outside
Feature
 
man screaming
Article
woman standing behind curtains
Article
 
Pet scan depression
Slideshow
antidepressants slideshow
Article
 
pill bottle
Article
Winding path
Article