Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Cognitive function in depression: its relationship to the presence and severity of intellectual decline

R. G. Browna1 c1, L. C. Scotta1, C. J. Bencha1 and R. J. Dolana1

a1 MRC Human Movement and Balance Unit, Institute of Neurology; Academic Department of Psychiatry, Royal Free School of Medicine; MRC Cyclotron Unit, Hammersmith Hospital; National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London


Cognitive dysfunction is an integral feature of depression, in some cases of sufficient severity to warrant a diagnosis of dementia. There has been little systematic investigation of whether cognitive dysfunction is an inevitable consequence of depression, or is specific to a subgroup of depressed patients. Related to this is the distribution of cognitive dysfunction, whether there is a continuum of impairment or a distinct demented subgroup. Finally, there is the question of which aspects of cognitive function are most sensitive to the intellectual decline seen in depression. A study is described which addresses these issues. The distribution of global cognition was found to be normally distributed in the sample of 29 patients assessed. Based on this distribution and the scores of a control sample, the patients were classified as unimpaired, borderline or impaired. Two sets of independent comparisons were carried out. First, the unimpaired depressed patients were compared to matched non-depressed controls. Significant deficits were found on a range of neuropsychological measures covering aspects of language function, memory, both recall and recognition, attention and behavioural regulation. These same patients were also compared with two groups of matched depressed patients, with varying degrees of global cognitive impairment. In general, the cognitive measures showed a gradient of dysfunction across the three patient groups. Significant differences between the depressed groups were shown on measures of immediate recall, attention and behavioural regulation. The possible significance of attentional factors for the observed memory dysfunction is discussed.


c1 Address for correspondence: Dr R. G. Brown, MRC Human Movement and Balance Unit, Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG