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Mental Illness and the Dementia Link- Part 1

By: Vicki Taylor

Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I, Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Panic Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and a slew of other medical issues not related to psychology, I became concerned about developing Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia as I grew older. I’m already middle age and have had some cognitive issues such as loss of memory.

Dementia symptoms also affect day-to-day activities, inability to focus, think clearly, or make sound decision.

I know memory loss comes with getting older, right? But, when is it just “getting older” and not something more serious? Especially considering the number of mental health issues others or I may have.

My fear was that I’d end up with Dementia either because I had a Mental Illness or because of the assortment of medications I was going to be on for the rest of my life; not discounting the genetic dispositions in my family.

So, I decided to talk to a psychiatrist about the concerns I had. I gave him a list of questions. He had experience treating patients with Dementia and Alzheimer’s as well.

1. Is this a healthy or normal fear for a person with Mental Illness?

2. Do you know the "odds" of a person with mental illness ending up with Dementia and when does it usually set in?

3. What can a person with Mental Illness do to help prevent Dementia from occurring? Or is there anything?

4. Have you had any personal experience with a mental ill person having Dementia? What can you tell me about it?

5. Do you know the percentage of people with Dementia who were also mentally ill?

6. Can Dementia be medicinally invoked?

7. What types of medications, if there are any, are more apt to cause Dementia in mentally ill patients?

8. Are there medications for Dementia that can help ease the symptoms?

9. Are there medications that can prolong the onset of Dementia?

10. Have I not asked questions on any other topics that you'd like me to bring up in the article?

Psychiatrist’s Response:

“These fears and questions you have are fairly common. There does seem to be a relationship between developing Dementia and having Mental Illness but it also appears that staying in treatment reduces this. As far as my personal experience what I have seen is people who are older and suffering from severe depression appearing demented. In the best case scenario I have seen the person appear to regain normal functioning once the depression subsides. In the worst-case scenario I have seen the dementia appear to take hold but in those few cases the depression did not get better either. I really don't think there is much evidence that medications cause dementia in patients.

“Sometimes if it seems that cognitive issues are becoming prominent will prescribe Alzheimer's medications like we did with you. It sounds like this will be a very interesting piece and I will be curious to see if your research digs up any other issues I haven't addressed here.” *

So, as you can see, more research is needed. Imagine my surprise when I used Google to search for “Mental Illness, Dementia, Link” and the pages of responses I received. I did not realize that there was that much information out there about a subject I thought was an abject fear floating around in my head.

From what I’ve read, here’s what I can tell you. There is a link between Depression and Dementia. It has been proven through several studies from as early as the 1970s. One of the studies used participants from the Framingham Heart Study. It concluded “Those who were depressed when first examined almost doubled their risk for dementia and also increased their risk for Alzheimer's disease.” *

So, that got me wondering. Is there anything a person can do to help slow down the progression of Dementia or halt it altogether?

I’ll go into the results of my research and conclusions in Part 2.

* Dr. Kenneth Pages, M.D. General Psychiatry, Tampa, FL

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