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Depression and dementia risk

Depression is known to be a risk factor for dementia but also may be part of the disease.

Does depression increase the risk of dementia?

Depression is a mental health condition that includes symptoms of persistent low mood, tiredness and disinterest in things you normally enjoy.

There is enough evidence to show that depression increases a person’s risk of developing dementia.

It is important to note that while there is a connection, not everyone who has depression will go on to develop dementia and not everyone with dementia will develop depression.

How to reduce the risk of dementia

A lifelong approach to good health is the best way to lower your risk of dementia.

There are some lifestyle behaviours with enough evidence to show that changing them will reduce your risk of dementia.

Reduce your risk of dementia

The link between depression and dementia

This connection between depression and dementia is complicated and how the two conditions are linked is unclear. Evidence shows that depression may be a part of the disease. It is thought that changes in the brain that happen before a person shows symptoms of dementia, may result in depression.

We don’t fully understand whether the length of depression, severity of depression or the age at which someone experiences depression affects their dementia risk.

It is not clear whether receiving treatment for depression, either through talking therapy or medication, can help with dementia risk, as few studies have looked at this.

Evidence is conflicting as to whether treatment with antidepressants affects dementia risk.

One study looked at an antidepressant drug called citalopram. Citalopram is known to reduce the build-up of clumps of amyloid protein – associated with Alzheimer’s’ disease. They found that treatment may have delayed the progression from early symptoms to clinically diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease.

Other studies suggest that certain medicines that are used for depression, called anticholinergics, might increase dementia risk. However, it may be that it is the appearance of depression, not the treatment that increases dementia risk.

Few studies have looked into the relationship between non-pharmacological interventions for depression and dementia risk. One study has shown that people who receive cognitive behavioural therapy for depression are less likely to develop dementia.

Depression is associated with roughly double the risk of developing dementia, according to a review that combined results from 32 research studies. However, the authors pointed out that very few studies follow people for longer than 10 years. Depression occurring closer in time to dementia diagnosis is more likely to be an early symptom.

It was suggested that the longer the time between depression and dementia diagnosis, the lower the risk effect.

Other research has tried to see whether there is a difference between late-life and early-life depression, in terms of dementia risk. It was found that while depression in later life affects dementia risk, depression at younger ages does not.

Research also suggests that past depression or recurrent depression is actually associated with reduced dementia rates. The increased dementia rates are related to new-onset depression rather than historical episodes.

Alzheimer’s Society is funding research to better understand the links between depression and dementia. We are also working to better support people living with dementia who are suffering from depression or other mental health difficulties.

Further reading

Learn about the causes, symptoms and treatments of depression for someone living with dementia.

Find out more

How people with dementia can manage loneliness and depression when living alone.

Find out more

How to tell if you have depression and when to see a doctor.

Find out more

Last reviewed: December 2023

Next review: December 2025