Background: It remains unclear whether depression increases the risk for dementia in the elderly. We evaluated the relationship between depressed mood at baseline and the incidence of dementia, particularly Alzheimer's disease, in the elderly living in the community.
Methods: A total of 1070 elderly individuals, aged 60 years or older, were identified as part of a registry for dementia in the Washington Heights community of North Manhattan, NY. In a prospective, longitudinal design with follow-up for 1 to 5 years, annual physician evaluation and neuropsychological testing were used to assess levels of cognitive impairment and to diagnose dementia. Depressive symptoms were evaluated with the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. Based on clinical considerations and a validity study, a positive score for the depressed mood item was used in statistical analyses. To confirm the results, the total Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression score was also evaluated as the "depression" variable.
Results: Of the 1070 subjects, 218 met criteria for dementia at baseline evaluation. In the 852 subjects without dementia, depressed mood was more common in individuals with greater cognitive impairment. In a follow-up study of 478 of these subjects without dementia (mean +/- SD, 2.54 +/- 1.12 years of follow-up), the effect of baseline depressed mood on the end-point diagnosis of dementia (93% had possible or probable Alzheimer's disease) was evaluated in a Cox proportional hazards model. Depressed mood at baseline was associated with an increased risk of incident dementia (relative risk, 2.94; 95% confidence interval, 1.76 to 4.91; P < .001). This effect remained after adjustment for age, gender, education, language of assessment, Blessed Memory Information and Concentration test scores, and Blessed Functional Activity Scale scores (relative risk, 2.05; 95% confidence interval, 1.16 to 3.62; P < .02). Similar results were obtained when the total Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression score was used as the depression variable, with the use of the same covariates (relative risk, 1.07 per point interval; 95% confidence interval, 1.02 to 1.11; P < .01).
Conclusions: Depressed mood moderately increased the risk of developing dementia, primarily Alzheimer's disease. Whether depressed mood is a very early manifestation of Alzheimer's disease, or increases susceptibility through another mechanism, remains to be determined.