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Does Depression Cause Memory Loss?

Depression is a mental health illness that affects millions of people globally. It comes with a deep feeling of sadness and helplessness that makes it difficult to do anything. You wake up feeling fatigued with little or no interest to do the things you once loved to do but depression does not only affect how we feel, it can also affect how we think.

The Link between Depression and Memory Loss

Many psychiatrists and psychologists have reported seeing several patients struggling with depression complain about trouble finding their keys, remembering their appointment dates, or retaining information they’ve read. Some may even forget a piece of information they have just received.

While we all forget things every now and then, in depression, it gets even more pervasive. This led to research into memory loss as a depression side effect.

A 2014 study analysed memory and negative cognition in two groups of people: a group of people who were formerly depressed and another group of people who had never been depressed. The study revealed that people who had been depressed in the past were better at remembering negative words from a list of words presented to them than the group who had never been depressed.

A 2007 study also found that depressed people feel worse when asked to recall positive memories. This may reflect the dominant negative bias in people with depression. Depressed people remember negative or neutral events much more than they remember positive events. They also remember negative events more than non-depressed individuals. The reason, as some psychologists describe is the reduction in their positive bias.

These findings give some insight into how memory works in people with depression. The area of the brain that controls learning and memory – the hippocampus – tends to be smaller in people with depression. Consequently, the volume of data these people can remember reduces. However, researchers are yet to understand why this memory loss affects positive memories mostly.

Generally, depression only affects short-term memory, such as where you kept your wristwatch, but does not affect other types of memory including long-term memory and procedural memory.

Memory loss in depression may also be partly caused by other factors including ageing, alcoholism, drug abuse, traumatic brain injury, vitamin B-12 deficiency, and as a side effect of medications you use. Anxiety in depressed people may also cause memory loss.

How to Manage Memory Loss in Depression

Memory loss in depression can be helped with counseling and use of your antidepressants, by way of treating the underlying depression. Your doctor may also prescribe certain medications to improve your memory if your memory loss is caused by other illnesses.

Furthermore, adopting these lifestyle changes will also help improve your memory:

1. Stay Organized

You are more likely to forget where you left objects in your home if you leave them cluttered. The same goes for your mind: if you do not jot down appointment dates, task timelines, or other events in a special notebook, you might forget them easily.

Keep things in your house in an organized manner. Also, keep to-do lists of upcoming tasks and check off items you have completed. Furthermore, set aside a particular section in your home where you keep your wallet, keys, books, and other essentials so you can reach them easily.

2. Get Physically Active

Exercise not only improves your mood, it also boosts your brain performance, and this includes your memory. This is not unusual because physical activity boosts blood flow to the brain.

Adults should have at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, including brisk walking, in a week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, every week.

3. Stay Mentally Active

Just as physical activity sharpens your body and mind, mental activity also keeps your mind sharp. Engage in mentally stimulating games such as bridge and crossword puzzles. You may also engage in grounding techniques to keep your mind at the present moment.

Learn new things also. Take a different route to work; take a course online; read a new book or article daily. The activities not only create new connections in your brain, but consolidate previously formed connections.

4. Get Enough Sleep

During sleep is when the brain synthesizes what we have learnt during the day and makes necessary repairs and reconnections. Little wonder, sleep deprivation is associated with memory loss and poor brain performance.

Most adults need 6-8 hours of sleep every day, and you should make sure getting this amount of sleep is a priority to keep your brain at peak performance.

Memory loss is a common complication of depression affecting many people. The keys steps you can take now to getting your memory back in shape are staying organized and being mentally and physically active.


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