The Link Between Mental Health and Dementia
Research shows that mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and psychosis increase the risks of dementia later in life. While there is no evidence that mental illnesses cause dementia, the link between mental health and dementia is worrisome, given the population of people with psychiatric disorders. According to latest data from UN, nearly one billion people globally are living with some form of mental illness.
Out of 1.7 million people (21-60 years) studied, 3.8% had a mental health condition, while 2% had a dementia diagnosis. Over 6% of the people with mental health problems developed dementia during the study. Among those without a mental health problem, only 1.8 developed dementia. This clearly shows that people with a mental illness are more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
The research was published in Jama Psychiatry.
What is the relationship between mental health and dementia?
According to the study's lead author Dr. Leah Richmond-Rakerd, the relationship between dementia and mental health problems could be because both conditions share the same risk factors. So, when one condition is present, the other is also likely to occur.
It could also be a brain vulnerability that manifests as mental health problems in early adulthood and later shows up as dementia.
Another plausible explanation is that mental health problems set one on a path to future health challenges. For example, an individual living with depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder may not care so much for their health even while experiencing side effects from life-long medication. These effects can compound over time and later manifest as cognitive impairment.
Even though mental health issues do not cause dementia, they are an early indicator of the condition.
Research Facts and Figures
Depression is generally a risk factor for dementia. Researchers report that people with symptoms of depression naturally experience a rapid decline in memory and thinking ability. But that's not all.
Several studies have shown that people with bipolar disorder tend to have cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment may be a marker of neuroprogression, a brain decline leading to dementia later in life.
In one Pubmed study, the risk of dementia was found to be higher in people with bipolar disorder than those without.
Another Pubmed study revealed that older men with psychosis have almost three times greater risk of developing dementia than those without the disorder.
Furthermore, research has found a disturbing link between schizophrenia and an increased risk of dementia. People with schizophrenia are 2.5 times more likely to develop dementia as well, with the dementia starting earlier than usual.
In general, mood disorders are associated with a higher risk of dementia. In fact, depression is often diagnosed in the early phase of dementia.
Indeed, there's no evidence to say mental health problems cause dementia. But one thing's for sure: the presence of mental health conditions in young adulthood indicates that dementia might occur later.
Over 55 million people are currently living with dementia worldwide as at 2023, and experts believe that someone develops the condition every three seconds. Perhaps, supporting young people's mental health may help reduce the number of older adults that get to suffer dementia later.