Can Depression Cause a Loss of Cognitive Function? – What Research Says

There’s a lot that’s been written about what to do when you have depression.

Many self-help articles talk about how to cope with depression symptoms or how to help a loved one who has depression. Most of the attention focuses on the emotional piece related to depression and how that affects a person’s life.

However, one topic that doesn’t always get much discussion is whether depression can cause a loss of cognitive function.

While it may not always get as much attention with the general public, researchers have had their eye on this matter for some time. In fact, research has found that depression can cause you to experience a loss of cognitive function.

Here are the specifics.

What Research Says

Research has confirmed that when you experience depression you also might see a cognitive decline. This may be in the short-term, while you are experiencing depression. However, it has also been found that having depression earlier in your life can be a risk factor toward developing dementia later on.

One study conducted by the University of Sussex found that those who had depression between the age of 20-40 years old experienced cognitive decline when they reached their 50s. This study utilized data acquired from the National Child Development Study in Great Britain.

Thus, depression not only has an immediate effect on your cognitive abilities. It also has the potential to impact your quality of life years or even decades after the depression occurred.

How Depression Interferes with Cognitive Functions

Diminishing Executive Functioning Abilities

One way that depression affects your cognitive abilities is executive functioning. This is the part of your brain that allows you to “adult.”

That includes, for example:

  • Staying organized
  • Planning
  • Completing tasks
  • Time management

Losing these abilities can be a big problem for both your professional and personal life. You need executive functioning to do everything from getting assignments done at work to making sure your kids are ready for school.

When depression is present, it makes it much harder to get anything done all. You often see depressed people who have a stack over overdue bills or emails to respond to, but they can’t because it’s just too hard.

Hindering Decision-Making Abilities

Another way that depression affects your cognitive abilities is your capacity to make decisions. It may feel overwhelming to make even the smallest of choices. That, in turn, creates more stress in your daily life.

In turn, you might find it easier to avoid making decisions at all, or as few as possible. Other people may misinterpret these behaviors as you being lazy. Yet, the real culprit is your depression.

Increasing Forgetfulness

Have you found it difficult to remember even the basic of details lately? It may be that your depression is the problem.

This is because the feelings of sadness and hopelessness override your brain. It’s so focused on those feelings, thoughts, and memories that it isn’t retaining other information as easily. This makes it more difficult for you when it comes to recalling things.

Other Contributors to Cognitive Loss

Additionally, when you’re depressed, you are not practicing positive habits that help your brain. For instance, depression can affect the quality of your sleep, causing you to get less sleep per night. Plus, many depressed people may also have more stress in their lives, which makes it hard to relax.

And if that’s not enough, oftentimes, depressed people engage in unhealthy coping methods such as alcohol use or substance abuse. These negative habits don’t help protect your cognitive abilities, rather they endanger them.

If you are struggling with depression, feel free to contact me. Battling depression requires professional support and a therapist trained to help you find the source of your issues, make lifestyle changes, and perhaps recommend a medication regimen. With treatment, you can not only feel better, but you will also be able to reclaim those cognitive abilities that seemed to be escaping you while depressed.



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