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Decline in Abstract Reasoning Leads to Depression

Study finds that among older adults, the connection is strong, but the reverse does not occur

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A study has found that starting around age 70, declines in abstract reasoning ability are a significant predictor of later depression, whereas the reverse is not the case: Depression does not lead to a loss in abstract reasoning ability.

The study of more than 1,000 older adults in Scotland was conducted by a team of medical researchers. Results were published in the journal Psychological Science.

In the research, participants were assessed on their fluid intelligence, which includes abstract reasoning. Three tests were administered, dealing with missing elements from geometric patterns, replication of a visuospatial model, and recollection of brief space and time sequences in forward and reverse order. Level of depression was gauged using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, which consists of 14 items that relate to depression and anxiety.


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Researchers discovered that, while depression and declines in abstract reasoning both tend to become more prevalent as we age, cases of depression were very strongly linked to the declines in reasoning they had noted.

The researchers called for further study in the hope that interventions could help stave off depression in patients who show declining reasoning ability.

"Mental health in later life is a topic of increasing importance given aging populations worldwide,” said researcher Stephen Aichele of the University of Geneva. “Our findings suggest that monitoring for cognitive [declines] in later adulthood may expedite efforts to reduce associated increases in depression risk."

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