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UBC PATHS Blog Post: Jan 17, 2024

What is depression? 

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a unipolar mood disorder that typically causes persistent feelings of sadness or anhedonia, the loss of pleasure or interest in previously enjoyed activities. This psychopathological disorder can impact individuals of any age or ethnic background, especially people who have lived through abuse or severe life events. It is estimated that the current global prevalence rate of MDD falls to around 5%. Women are typically diagnosed with depression at higher rates than men, although this may be related to gender stereotypes inhibiting treatment rather than biological differences between genders. There are currently a variety of treatments available for individuals diagnosed with MDD, including psychological treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy and pharmaceutical therapies such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. 


Major depressive disorder can affect daily lives in many ways and these effects can present as symptoms for the disorder. There are lots of different symptoms for major depressive disorder and they present differently in everyone. Common symptoms for major depressive disorder in children can include: sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school or being underweight. Symptoms in teens include: sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self harm, loss of interest in normal activities and avoidance of social interaction. Symptoms in older adults include: memory difficulties or personality changes, physical aches or pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems, less socializing, suicidal thinking or feelings. 


Alzheimer’s disease is prompted by various environmental, genetic, and physiological factors. Although there isn’t a specific origin of the cause of Alzheimer's, a combination of factors has been shown to influence the rise of this disease. One main contributor to Alzheimer’s is the physiological changes of the brain due to the increase in age. These changes include brain shrinkage, inflammation, and damage to the blood vessels. Over time, the brain changes would induce malfunctioning neurons and brain cells, resulting in brain function deterioration Aside from age-related causes, genetics also play a big role in influencing Alzheimer’s. If one has a large history of family members with Alzheimer’s disease, there is a great chance that the family has heritable genes that cause one to be more prone to getting Alzheimer’s disease. One genetic condition specifically; down syndrome, is associated with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Finally, a major player in the cause of Alzheimer’s is one’s lifestyle. Overexposure to an unhealthy lifestyle and a hazardous environment such as pollutants and imbalanced diets will increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure developed from these unhealthy lifestyles will further lead to a high chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s and Depression

Experts estimate that up to 40 percent of people with Alzheimer's disease suffer from significant depression. However, depression in Alzheimer's doesn't always look like depression in people without Alzheimer's. They may be less severe, may not last as long and symptoms may come and go. There is no single test or questionnaire to detect depression. Diagnosis requires a thorough evaluation by a medical professional, especially since side effects of medications and some medical conditions can produce similar symptoms. Because of the complexities involved in diagnosing depression in someone with Alzheimer's, it may be helpful to consult a geriatric psychiatrist who specializes in recognizing and treating depression in older adults. For a person to be diagnosed with depression in Alzheimer's, he or she must have either a depressed mood (sad, hopeless, discouraged or tearful) or decreased pleasure in usual activities.


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