Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Effects of major depression on the cognitive function of younger and older subjects

  • A. F. Tarbuck (a1) and E. S. Paykel (a1)

The effects of age and depression on cognitive function were investigated in two groups of in-patient major depressives aged under and over 60 years who were tested when depressed and after recovery. The majority of the tests showed impaired performance during depression with improvement after recovery, and also differences between the two age-groups in both the depressed and recovered phases. However, the older subjects were not more severely affected by depression than the younger subjects. The pattern of impairment associated with depression was different to that associated with older age: depression affected performance on more ‘complex tasks’, whereas age was associated particularly with slowing on timed tests. This study did not suggest that the impairment from baseline due to depression is greater in the elderly than in younger subjects.

Corresponding author
1Address for correspondence: Dr Andrew F. Tarbuck, Psychiatric Services for the Elderly, Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge, CB1 5EF.
Hide All
Abas M. A., Sahakian B. J. & Levy R. (1990). Neuropsychological deficits and CT scan changes in elderly depressives. Psychological Medicine 20, 507520.
Alexopoulos G. S. (1989). Late-life depression and neurological brain disease. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 4, 187190.
Alexopoulos G. S., Young R. C., Meyers B. S., Abrams R. C. & Shamoian C. A. (1988). Late-onset depression. Psychiatric Clinics 11, 101115.
Benton A. L. (1977). Interactive effects of age and brain disease on reaction time. Archives on Neurology 34, 369370.
Bhaji S. & Lader M. (1977). The electroencephalographic and physiological effects of imipramine in depressed patients. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 112, 349359.
Caine E. D. (1981). Pseudodementia; current concepts and future directions. Archives of General Psychiatry 38, 13591364.
Cockburn J. & Smith P. T. (1989). The Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test, Supplement 3: Elderly People. Thames Valley Test Company: Titchfield, Hants.
Coffey C. E., Wilkinson W. E., Weiner R. D., Parashos I. A., Djang W. T. & Webb M. C. (1993). Quantitative cerebral anatomy in depression; a controlled magnetic resonance imaging study. Archives of General Psychiatry 50, 716.
Cohen R. M., Weingartner H., Smallberg S. A., Pickar D. & Murphy D. L. (1982). Effort and cognition in depression. Archives of General Psychiatry 39, 593597.
Cole J. O. & Davis J. M. (1975). Antidepressant drugs. In Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 2nd edn. (ed. Freedman A. M., Kaplan H. I. and Sadock B. J.), pp. 19411956. Williams & Wilkins Company: Baltimore.
Collins A. M. & Quillian M. R. (1969). Retrieval time from semantic memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour 8, 240247.
Cummings J., Benson D. F. & LoVerme S. (1980). Reversible dementia. Journal of the American Medical Association 243, 24342439.
Davies R. K., Tucker G. J. & Harrow M. (1971). Confusional episodes and antidepressant medication. American Journal of Psychiatry 128, 9599.
Dolan R. J., Calloway S. P. & Mann A. H. (1985). Cerebral ventricular size in depressed patients. Psychological Medicine 15, 873878.
Dysken M. W., Merry W. & Davis J. M. (1978). Anticholinergic psychosis. Psychiatry Annals 8, 452456.
Feehan M., Knight R. G. & Partridge F. M. (1991). Cognitive complaint and test performance in elderly patients suffering from depression or dementia. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 6, 287293.
Feinberg T. & Goodman B. (1984). Affective illness, dementia and pseudodementia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 45, 99103.
Folstein M. G., Folstein S. E. & McHugh P. R. (1975). Minimental state. Psychiatry Research 12, 189198.
Glass R. M., Uhlenhuth R. H., Hartel F. W., Matuzas W. & Fischman M. W. (1981). Cognitive dysfunction and imipramine in out-patient depressives. Archives of General Psychiatry 38, 10481051.
Hamilton M. (1960). A rating scale for depression. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 135, 7778.
Hart R. P. & Kwentus J. A. (1987). Psychomotor slowing and subcortical-type dysfunction in depression. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 50, 12631266.
Hart R. P., Kwentus J. A., Taylor J. R. & Hamer R. M. (1988). Productive naming and memory in depression and Alzheimer's type dementia. Archives of Clinical neuropsychology 3, 313322.
Huppert F. A. (1987). Cognitive function. In Health and Lifestyle Survey; Preliminary Report of a Nationwide Survey of Physical and Mental Health, Attitudes and Lifestyle in a Random Sample of 9003 British Adults (ed. Cox B. D.), pp. 4350. Health Promotion Research Trust: London.
Jacoby R. J. & Levy R. (1980). Computed tomography in the elderly; 3, affective disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry 136, 270275.
Jansen W. & Siegfried K. (1984). Nomifensine in geriatric in-patients, a placebo-controlled study. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 45, (sect. 2), 6367.
Kahn R. L., Zarit S. H., Hilbert N. M. & Niederehe G. (1975). Memory complaint in the aged. Archives of General Psychiatry 32, 15691573.
Kellner C. H., Rubinow D. R. & Post R. M. (1986). Cerebral ventricular size and cognitive impairment in depression. Journal of Affective Disorders 10, 215219.
Kral V. A. & Emery V. B. (1989). Long-term follow-up of depressive pseudodementia of the aged. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 34, 445446.
Kramer N. A. & Jarvik L. (1979). Assessment of intellectual changes in the elderly. In Psychiatric Symptoms and Cognitive Loss in the Elderly (ed Raskin A. and Jarvik L.), pp. 221271. Hemisphere: Washington, DC.
Lamberty G. J. & Bieliauskas L. A. (1993). Distinguishing between depression and dementia in the elderly: a review of neuropsychological findings. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology 8, 149170.
Lezak M. D. (1983). Neuropsychological Assessment. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Lowenthal M. F. & Berkman P. L. (1967). Ageing and Mental Disorder in San Francisco. Jossey-Bass Inc.: San Francisco.
McAllister T. W. (1983). Overview; pseudodementia. American Journal of Psychiatry, 140, 528533.
McNair D. M. & Kahn R. J. (1983). Self-assessment of cognitive deficits. In Assessment in Geriatric Psychopharmacology (ed. Crook T., Ferris S. and Bartus R.), pp. 137143. Mark Powley Associates Inc.: Connecticut.
Marsden C. D. & Harrison M. J. G. (1972). Outcome of investigation of patients with presenile dementia. British Medical Journal 17, 249252.
Miller W. R. (1975). Psychological deficits in depression. Psychological Bulletin 82, 238260.
Montgomery S. A. & Åsberg M. (1979). A new depression scale designed to be sensitive to change. British Journal of Psychiatry 134, 382389.
Nelson H. E. (1982). The National Adult Reading Test Manual. NEFR Nelson: Windsor.
Niederehe G. (1986). Depression and memory impairment in the aged. In Handbook for Clinical Memory Assessment in Older Adults (ed. Poon L.), pp. 226237. American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.
Norušis M. (1988). Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS/PC+). SPSS Inc.: Chicago.
Nott P. N. & Fleminger J. J. (1975). Presenile dementia, the difficulties of early diagnosis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandanavica 51, 210217.
O'Connor D. W., Pollit P. A., Roth M., Brook C. P. B. & Reiss B. B. (1990). Memory complaints and impairment in normal, depressed and demented elderly persons identified in a community survey. Archives of General Psychiatry 47, 224227.
Paykel E. S. (1985). Clinical interview for depression, development, reliability and validity. Journal of Affective Disorders 9, 8596.
Pirozzolo F. J., Mahurin R. K., Loring D. W., Appel S. H. & Maletta G. J. (1985). Choice reaction time modifiability in dementia and depression. International Journal of Neuroscience 26, 17.
Plotkin D. A., Mintz J. & Jarvik L. (1985). Subjective memory complaints in geriatric depression. American Journal of Psychiatry 142, 11031105.
Popkin S. J., Gallagher D., Thompson L. W. & Moore M. (1982). Memory complaint and performance in normal and depressed older adults. Experimental Ageing Research 8, 141145.
Rabins P. V., Merchant A. & Nedstadt G. (1984). Criteria for diagnosing reversible dementia caused by depression; validation of a 2 year follow-up. British Journal of Psychiatry 144, 488492.
Raskin A. (1986). Partialing out the effects of depression and age on cognitive functions; experimental data and methodologic issues. In Handbook for Clinical Memory Assessment of Older Adults (ed. Poon L.), pp. 244256. American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.
Raskin A., Friedman A. S. & DiMascio A. (1982). Cognitive and performance deficits in depression. Psychopharmacology Bulletin 18, 196202.
Ron M. A., Toone B. K., Garralda M. E. & Lishman W. A. (1979). Diagnostic accuracy in presenile dementia. British Journal of Psychiatry 134, 161168.
Roy-Byrne P. P., Weingartner H., Bierer L. M. & Post R. M. (1986). Effortful and automatic cognitive processes in depression. Archives of General Psychiatry 43, 265267.
Savard R. J., Rey A. C. & Post R. M. (1980). Halstead-Reitan category test in bipolar and unipolar affective disorders; relationships to age and phase of illness. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 168, 297304.
Siegfried K. (1985). Cognitive symptoms in late life depression and their treatment. Journal of Affective Disorders supplement 1, S33S40.
Spring B., Gelenberg A. J., Garvin R. & Thompson S. (1992). Amitriptyline, clovoxamine and cognitive function; a placebo-controlled comparison in depressed out-patients. Psychopharmacology; Berlin 108, 327332.
Steingart A. & Hermann N. (1991). Major depressive disorder in the elderly; the relationship between age of onset and cognitive impairment. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 6, 593598.
Sternberg D. E. & Jarvik M. E. (1976). Memory functions in depression. Archives of General Psychiatry 33, 219224.
Tombaugh T. N. & McIntyre N. J. (1992). The mini-mental state examination: a comprehensive review. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 40, 922935.
Weckowicz T. E., Nutter R. W. & Cruise D. G. (1972). Speed in test performance in relation to depressive illness and age. Journal of the Canadian Psychiatric Association 17, supplement 288, 241250.
Weingartner H. (1986). Automatic and effort-demanding cognitive processes in depression In Handbook for Clinical Memory Assessment of Older Adults (ed. Poon L.), pp. 218225. American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.
Weingartner H. & Silberman E. (1984). Cognitive changes in depression. In Frontiers of Clinical Neuroscience; Neurobiology of Mood Disorders Volume 1 (ed. Post R. M. and Ballinger J. C.), pp. 121135. Williams and Wilkins: Baltimore, MD.
Whitehead A. (1974). Verbal learning and memory in elderly depressives. British Journal of Psychiatry 123, 203208.
Wilson B. A., Cockburn J. & Baddeley A. D. (1985). The Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test. Thames Valley Test Company: Titchfield, Hants.
Wilson B. A., Cockburn J. & Halligan P. (1987). Behavioural Inattention Test. Thames Valley Test Company: Titchfield, Hants.
Zubenko G. S., Sullivan P., Nelson J. P., Belle S. H., Hutt F. J. & Wolf G. L. (1990). Brain imaging abnormalities in mental disorders of late life. Archives of Neurology 47, 11071111.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 20 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 177 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.