Cognitive Effects of Late Life Depression: Review of Neuropsychological Findings

Normal aging and depression both slows information processing speed which leads to poorer attentional control, shallower inhibition monitoring, poorer encoding, poorer updating of short term memory, and subsequent poorer learning, set-shifting, error monitoring, inhibition control, and cognitive planning.


A combination of aging and depression amplifies these cognitive effects. Deterioration in frontal brain functioning in normal aging is irreversible, but altering of frontal brain function due to depression may be reversible. Since the symptoms are indistinguishable, it is difficult to separate effects of depression and aging with use of neuropsychological tests, even when premorbid history is known. Statistical group effects show more severe cognitive effects in late life depression than in normal aging or depression in younger persons, but no particular cognitive markers of depression in older subjects have been identified. Attention and inhibition are closely related, but their relationship needs to be studied further. It is not clear, whether a problem with inhibition of irrelevant stimuli occurs because of attentional deficits due to late life depression, or if it is a primary consequence of the depression. Further studies on the relationship between inhibition, attention and processing speed involving homogeneous depressed and nondepressed groups of different age may help disentangle this relationship.

Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 2014, 4, 141-157

Published Apr. 14, 2014 8:00 AM