Cognitive dysfunctions predict course of depression after first-episode

New research suggests that patients suffering from depression should also receive cognitive testing. The study, published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, found that cognitive impairments were associated with the severity of depressive symptoms.

“Cognitive deficits are currently a hot topic in affective disorders (especially major depression) as their treatment is an unmet need, while the worse cognitive performance, the more difficult to come back to normal daily functioning,” explained study author Maria J. Portella of the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

“Therefore, it is of paramount importance to determine what patients do show cognitive deficits from the very beginning of the disorders and the impact of such deficits on the course of the disorder.”

The study examined the cognitive performance of 90 patients with a first episode depression, and compared them to 40 healthy controls.

Portella and her colleagues found that about one in four depressed patients showed impairments in language ability, attention, working memory, verbal memory, processing speed, and executive functioning.

In addition, the study found that impairments in executive functioning and language ability in particular predicted the severity of depressive symptoms after 12 months.

“The take-home message is that every patient has to be cognitively evaluated soon after receiving the diagnosis of depression so as to determine the presence of deficits that may worsen the course of the disorder if not treated,” Portella said.

“The major caveat is the scarcity of effective treatment for cognitive symptoms, and thus, the development of new molecules or adapted programs of cognitive remediation is still needed.”

“Another important issue is that physicians and psychiatrists still have to acknowledge the existence of cognitive symptoms in psychiatric disorders,” she added.