Can Depression Cause Memory Loss?

February 24, 2022   •  Posted in: 

It’s understandable if people who are struggling with depression ask themselves this question. After all, depression can be disorienting. People often don’t notice their memory skills are affected until after they are diagnosed with depression.

Many studies have been conducted on this topic, and the general scientific consensus is that there is a link between depression and memory loss.

In this article, we will cover the following topics:

  • Learn how depression and memory loss are related to each other
  • Find out how depression can cause memory loss and confusion
  • Discover how depression affects sleep quality, which impacts memory
  • Learn if the consumption of antidepressants can cause short-term memory loss
  • Find out if memory loss is permanent and if it is possible to overcome memory disorders
  • Gain an understanding of what practical steps you should take to overcome depression and memory loss


How Are Depression and Memory Loss Related?

Scientists and researchers have spent a substantial amount of time analyzing and studying the relationship between depression and memory.

Depression is considered a common mental disorder that negatively impacts a person’s emotions, thoughts, and actions. It usually brings about feelings of extreme sadness and loneliness, and leads to the loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. It also reduces one’s capacity to function properly in personal and professional settings.

Memory loss is described as an extraordinary form of forgetfulness that goes beyond casual absentmindedness. It severely affects the ability of an individual to remember people, events, names, dates, memories, and other information. A person can forget new data, past information, or both. Memory loss may be classified as either short-term or long-term, depending on what the patient tends to forget and remember.

A summary of some notable studies on the relationship between these two conditions is presented below.

Relationship Between Depression and Subjective Memory Loss

A 2018 study by the Psychological Medicine journal reveals that depression does impact the memory functions of people. [1]

During this study, the researchers explored the effects of depression on memory problems for participants who reported at least one symptom of depression. They evaluated how depression symptoms affected subjective memory (subjective – how a person feels about an experience)and objective memory (objective – based on facts rather than feelings). The results showed that depression is associated with subjective memory loss.

Relationship Between Depression and Daily Memory Plus Concentration

A 2016 study published by the Cognition & Emotion journal explains that depression is associated with day-to-day memory issues and concentration problems. [2]

A depressed mood can slow down processing speed and memory recall, especially in individuals with dysphoria. Working memory can be reduced whenever a person has depressive thoughts.

Relationship Between Depression and Dementia Plus Poor Cognition

A 2019 study by the British Journal of Psychiatry reveals that depression and other affective disorders are linked to dementia, poor cognition, and fast cognitive decline during the late adulthood stage. [3]

The researchers analyzed data from the National Child Development Study, evaluating the memory, processing speed, accuracy, and verbal fluency of 50-year-old participants. The results showed that long-term mental health conditions might lead to impaired cognition when patients reach the mid-life stage of their lives.

Relationship Between Depression Risk Factors and Memory Loss Vulnerability

Scientific research shows that people who are diagnosed with depression may be susceptible to memory loss.

While it is possible for everyone to get depressed, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) explains that major risk factors can make certain people vulnerable to depression:

  • Environmental Causes: The consistent exposure to negative factors like abuse, neglect, violence, and poverty may increase a person’s tendency to become depressed.
  • Genetics: Genetics can play a role in the onset of depression. This mental health condition sometimes affects different members of the same family.
  • Biochemistry: The unique chemical makeup of the brain of a person can lead to depression symptoms.
  • Personality: Individuals who suffer from low self-esteem, are affected by stress, or have a pessimistic streak may encounter depression.

Since depression and memory loss are connected, the risk factors for depression may also be contributing elements to related memory problems and cognitive issues.


How Does Depression Cause Memory Loss?

Depression can cause memory loss by influencing various aspects of the mind, such as subjective memory, concentration, working memory, cognitive function, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Forbes considers memory loss one of the common symptoms of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders. [4]

Depression Changes the Brain Regions

According to the Molecular Psychiatry journal, depression can even transform the structure of a person’s brain. [5] The brain imaging research results show that depression changes certain sections of the brain:

  • Hippocampus: The center of human memory
  • Prefrontal Cortex: The focal point of executive functioning, which involves planning, reasoning, and choice-making
  • Amygdala: The core of human emotions

All portions of the brain are connected. If depression alters the brain region involving emotions, the region that handles memory will likely be affected, too.

Depression Shrinks the Hippocampus, the Brain’s Memory Center

People diagnosed with depression have a reduced hippocampal volume, based on the study by the Molecular Psychiatry journal. Aside from the hippocampus, depression also changes the size of the amygdala.

The hippocampus is primarily responsible for the memory and learning functions of the brain. It is a complex brain region that is deeply embedded into the temporal lobe. This plastic structure is vulnerable to damage by different factors. The Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology shares that psychiatric and neurological disorders commonly harm the hippocampus. [6]

The Molecular Psychiatry researchers noticed the phenomenon of hippocampus shrinking among individuals with repeating depressive episodes, especially those who develop depression before they reach the age of 21. Nevertheless, it does not typically occur among people who experience first-time depressive episodes.

These transformations in brain structure are believed to be caused by a loss of neurons due to the chemical reactions brought about by stress. Neurons are nerves that transmit information within the brain. Depression may suppress the development of new neurons in a person’s brain.


Can Depression Cause Confusion?

Confusion is one of the possible symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders, based on resources from the University of Michigan Health. [7]

Definition of Confusion

Confusion is a state of mind where an individual temporarily loses their capacity to think clearly or swiftly. It usually involves sensations of disorientation. Confused people find it hard to remember certain things, make intelligent choices, and focus on routine duties.

Relationship Between Depression and Confusion

According to Harvard Health Publishing, depression can hinder a person’s ability to think clearly. [8] Overall, the mental impairment caused by depression can contribute to the onset of feelings of confusion in depressed people.

Depression can limit the propensity of an individual to process information and make appropriate decisions. It can minimize cognitive flexibility, which refers to the ability to adjust one’s objectives and plans based on evolving situations. It also reduces executive functioning, which describes the faculty required to take the necessary steps to complete a task.

Confusion as a symptom of depression can affect a person’s capacity to think and function properly in daily life.

Effects of Antidepressant Medications on Mental Impairment and Confusion

A 2016 study published by The Lancet evaluated the effect of three traditional antidepressant medications on mental impairment caused by depression. [9]

More than 1,000 people with depression participated in the research project. The subjects took one of these three types of medicines: sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), or venlafaxine-XR (Effexor-XR). The results showed that 95% of the participants did not display any cognitive benefits after taking these medicines.

The study’s outcome was not unexpected because antidepressant medications boost one’s mood and enhance the capacity to participate in positive activities. In short, they work to improve the emotional aspect of patients more than the cognitive aspects. After all, different regions of the brain are responsible for emotional and cognitive functioning.

Hopefully, other new medications for depression will be able to create cognitive benefits by minimizing mental impairments like confusion and disorientation. Aside from medications, problem-solving treatments may also reduce confused feelings and other symptoms of depression linked to cognition.


Depression Affects Sleep Quality Which Affects Memory

Depression diminishes sleep quality. In turn, the lack of good sleep can adversely affect memory.

Relationship Between Depression and Sleep Quality

A 2002 study by Sleep Medicine Reviews explains the connection between depression and sleep disorders through changes in serotonin. [10]

Serotonin is a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Serotonin activity is high when an individual is awake and is low when they are sleeping. The attainment of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep depends on reduced serotonin activity in the brain.

The research findings reveal that depression can negatively affect the proper function of serotonin in the brain. As a result, depressed patients are vulnerable to insomnia and other sleep disorders. Ironically, they often experience mood improvement after one night of sleep loss. However, regular sleep deprivation may lead to memory loss in the long run.

Relationship Between Sleep Loss and Memory Loss

A 2020 study published by the Cognitive Research Journal concludes that sleep quality is related to prospective memory. [11]
Prospective memory refers to the ability to remember to perform a future task at the right time. This type of memory is essential to maintaining a person’s daily routine. Sleep is one of the factors that may influence prospective memory.

The researchers explain that the total lack of sleep, a limited amount of sleep, or poor sleep quality can impair a person’s prospective memory.

Amount of Sleep Required for Optimal Memory Function

The Sleep Health Journal reports the sleep time durations the National Sleep Foundation officially recommends:

  • Adults and young adults: 7 to 9 hours
  • Older adults: an average of 8 hours
  • School-aged children: 9 to 11 hours
  • Preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours
  • Infants: 12 to 15 hours
  • Newborns: 14 to 17 hours

The sleep duration requirements of each individual may differ based on their age and health condition. To be realistic, people with depression may find it challenging to maintain a consistent sleep pattern. Nevertheless, they can consult with healthcare professionals to determine practical measures to improve their sleep patterns.

Getting the proper amount of sleep is vital to avoid memory loss and other symptoms of sleep deprivation.


Taking Antidepressants Can Cause Short-Term Memory Loss

Taking certain antidepressant medications can lead to short-term memory loss in patients who have been diagnosed with depression.

Relationship Between Antidepressants and Short-term Memory Loss

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are medications commonly used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. These medicines correct the chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain to improve the mood and behavior of patients.

A 2016 study published by the Psychiatric Journal suggests that using SSRIs during the treatment of depression can result in memory cognitive dysfunction. [12] Researchers used an assessment test to evaluate various aspects of cognitive function, such as memory, attention, orientation, calculation, registration, and language skills.

The majority of patients reported that they experienced memory loss while taking SSRIs. The researchers concluded that the drug-induced memory loss was not merely a symptom of depression but a side effect of the antidepressant medications.

Other Medications That May Cause Memory Loss

Depressed people typically take SSRIs, but some also take other medications for other mental health conditions and physical diseases. They must exercise caution when selecting medicines because certain prescribed drugs may also cause memory loss.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), these are some of the medications that may hamper the memory function of the brain:

  • Antianxiety Medications: Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety disorder, insomnia, and other mental health conditions that usually accompany depression.
  • Antiseizure Drugs: These medicines were originally utilized to control and manage seizures. They are also prescribed to people with bipolar disorder, mood disorders, mania, and other mental health issues similar to depression.
  • Sleep Medications: Nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics are popular as sleeping aids. They are prescribed for patients with insomnia and other sleep disorders which depressed people often experience.
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): Aside from SSRIs, TCAs are used to treat depression. They are also prescribed for people with anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and other hormone-related disorders.

The right medications can play an important role in treating and managing depression and other mental health disorders. However, patients must research the potential side effects of these prescribed drugs and consult with their health care provider before taking any medication.


Is Memory Loss Permanent?

Research has shown that memory loss is a side effect of depression. Thankfully, it may be reversed with the help of revolutionary medical treatments like therapeutic molecules.

Breakthrough Therapeutic Molecules May Reverse Memory Loss

A 2019 study by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health shows that new therapeutic molecules may reverse memory loss connected to depression and aging. [13] This treatment could minimize the symptoms of memory dysfunction and heal brain impairments related to memory issues.

At present, there are no available prescribed drugs for treating memory loss and cognitive conditions brought about by depression and other mental disorders. In contrast, the new therapeutic molecules can reactivate the damaged brain receptors that decrease memory skills.

A team of scientists developed these therapeutic molecules through a rigorous process. First, they pinpointed the impairments in the brain cell receptors of the GABA neurotransmitter system. Next, they analyzed how these impairments can bring about memory loss and mood changes in depressed patients.

Afterward, the scientists invented tiny molecules that could bind and activate the affected receptors. The molecules are chemically altered versions of the antidepressants called benzodiazepines. They produce a therapeutic impact by fixing the damaged receptors to reduce memory impairments.

Finally, they administered the therapeutic molecules to participants. The research findings showed that the molecules effectively reversed memory decline and improved memory performance of depressed individuals and older adults.

Contact a Competent Mental Health Treatment Facility To Avoid Memory Loss Caused by Depression

Whether memory impairment caused by depression is short-term or long-term, it can negatively impact the lives of depressed people by hampering the way they think and function. While memory loss may be reversed through new treatments, it is better to address this symptom as early as possible to minimize its effects.

If you or your loved ones are experiencing memory loss because of depression, you should seek professional assistance from a mental health treatment facility.

Licensed healthcare professionals and therapists can help you discover which medical and psychological treatment methods are best for you. They can also design customized therapy plans to improve your mental, emotional, and physical well-being as you do your best to overcome your mental health condition.


Depression and Memory Loss FAQs

Can depression-related memory loss be reversed?

It is possible for depression-related memory loss to be reversed through new therapeutic molecules. These molecules are chemically altered versions of antidepressant benzodiazepines. They fix brain impairments to minimize memory dysfunctions caused by depression.

Does memory come back after depression?

A person’s memory may come back after they recover from depression. However, it is necessary for the person to undergo the necessary medical and psychological treatments to improve their memory.

Can depression permanently damage your brain?

Depression may cause permanent memory loss in the case of some patients. While memory impairment may be reversed with the right treatment, this damage to the brain may become permanent if it is neglected and left untreated for an extended period of time.

Can a mental breakdown cause memory loss?

Memory loss is one of the symptoms of depression, mental breakdowns, and other psychological disorders, based on the results of scientific research. Emotional stress can affect the memory function of a person’s brain and can lead to memory impairments and poor memory performance in individuals who are struggling with mental health issues.


Is Depression Treatment a Good Solution?

Depression treatment may be an excellent solution for those struggling with depression, and depression-induced memory loss. The Center • A Place of HOPE is recognized as a Top Ten Center for depression treatment in the U.S. Our Whole Person approach to care works on each aspect of a person’s being – emotional, relational, physical, spiritual – to achieve lasting results. Contact us today to learn more.


Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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