Closeup of an old man lost in thought , loneliness
Closeup of an old man lost in thought , loneliness

A news story on BBC 4 this morning about depression in the elderly said new research showed that depression in an elderly person could be an early sign of dementia. But before everyone with depression goes rushing off to a Memory Clinic, here are some facts to look at.

Firstly, the finding that there’s a link between depression and dementia isn’t new at all.  The Center for Ageing, Rush University, Chicago, published studies some years ago showing that depression increases the risk of developing dementia by up to 47%.   Other studies have concurred.

Way back in 2007 Israeli Professor Bonne showed that depression slows blood flow to the brain. Which is not good for the health of the brain at all, but it is not a sign of early dementia.   (I wrote about it in ‘Could it Be Dementia?’, in the chapter, ‘The If’s that are not dementia.’ (published 2008, Lion Monarch).

The main difference between dementia and depression is that a depressed person’s powers of reasoning and ability to orientate themselves as to time and space usually remain intact, while in a person with dementia, they are likely to be impaired. A depressed person will usually complain of an inability to remember things but will remember when prompted, whereas a person with dementia will be forgetful but often try to cover up memory lapses.

Sadly, for some people, simply getting older seems to be a recipe for depression.   

Sometimes older people lose their self-esteem as they find they are not able to do what they once did. Their circumstances have changed and they often lose a sense of purpose.  Added to that is the growing epidemic of loneliness.  It’s affecting all generations but, as a rule, the elderly have fewer resources to address it.  Simply not being able to get out and about as they used to an be a big cause.  And loneliness increases the risk of developing dementia, because loneliness can cause depression.

Weeks before our conference at Temple Baptist Church, Pontypridd on April 23rd we wrote to 247 churches in the vicinity to ask if their members would be interested in attending, inviting them to choose from a list of topics that they would like to see addressed.  Top of the list was loneliness, followed by dementia and how Christians can come alongside caring families.

My seminar looked at loneliness and how churches could tackle it by ‘crowd sourcing’, with a dedicated ‘project manager’, or two, beginning in the ‘household of faith’ (Galatians 6:10).  It’s an approach that breaks the elephant down into bite sizes, and makes it eminently doable, whatever the size of the church.  It encourages people to use their talents, which they’re often delighted to do.   I’ll be writing about it in our Pilgrims’ Magazine, due this June.  If you’d like a copy, email me at [email protected]

Depression has been around since humankind began, and there’s pretty sound advice in the Bible about how to deal with it.  ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?’  asks the writer of Psalm 42 (one of my favourites).  Then he says firmly, ‘ Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation, and my God.’   


Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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