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Symptoms of depression predict dementia

University of Antwerp researchers followed a group of elderly people with mild cognitive problems for a period of four years.

July 17, 2014
People who develop a combination of mild cognitive problems and depressive symptoms in old age are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than are their age peers with mild cognitive disorders and no symptoms of depression. This was the conclusion of a study conducted at the University of Antwerp, in which scientists followed a large group of elderly people with mild cognitive impairment. The study is appearing in a leading publication, the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Dr Stefan Van der Mussele, who is affiliated with the Institute Born-Bunge at the University of Antwerp, is leading the investigation under the guidance of two supervisors, Professor Sebastiaan Engelborghs and Professor Peter Paul De Deyn. The study focuses on behavioural and psychological symptoms in elderly people with cognitive deterioration. Within the framework of a doctoral research project, he has been conducting an investigation for several years involving a group of 235 people above the age of 55 years with mild cognitive problems.

“I’ve been following this group for four years”, explains Van der Mussele. “Research has shown that older people with mild cognitive deficiencies who exhibit depressive symptoms are more likely to experience dementia related to Alzheimer’s. Experiencing depression in old age is taxing for everyone involved. It should not be seen as an innocent problem, however, given that it is a predictor of dementia.”

Of the people in the study group, 69% developed some form of dementia. For most of the patients, the dementia was a consequence of Alzheimer’s disease. Van der Mussele: “We do not yet know whether depression actually does increase the risk for contracting Alzheimer’s dementia, or whether depressive symptoms are an early manifestation of the developing illness. Follow-up studies are needed in order to answer this question.”

The article concerning the study is being published on the website of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, and it will appear later in the print version of the journal. The results will be presented on Tuesday 15 July at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Copenhagen.

Additional information:

Professor Sebastiaan Engelborghs (University of Antwerp): or +32 479 68 62 17.

The complete article is available here:

Institute Born-Bunge (University of Antwerp)

The reference centre for biological markers of dementia (BIODEM) was established in 2004. It has contributed to the clinical validation and harmonisation of the existing biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. The analysis of these biomarkers is already being offered as a service to referring physicians in Belgium and abroad. With the objective of improving the diagnosis of dementia, BIODEM is investing in the development, validation and harmonisation of new markers. In addition to investigating biochemical and imaging markers, research is also being conducted on behavioural and psychological changes and neuropsychological deficiencies that could predict the development of dementia. Professor Sebastiaan Engelborghs is the director of BIODEM. Dr Stefan van der Mussele is affiliated with this research unit as a post-doctoral researcher.