Can Depression Cause Memory Loss?

Memory recall issues caused by depression aren’t as widely discussed as other symptoms like fatigue, irritability, or weight loss. Still, many studies show that cognitive impairments such as information retention and processing, attention, and memory retrieval issues are common in people with such a condition.

In the US, it’s estimated that about 17.3 million [13*]  people suffer from depression each year, and up to three in five depression patients may experience memory loss with depression.

Researchers think these memory issues are related to changes caused by depression in our brain structure and function. According to the 2018 published study (Psychological Medicine Trusted Source [14*] ), people with depressive disorders (such as major depressive disorder) sometimes struggle to remember specific aspects of their autobiographical memories. It hypothesized that depression might slow down the production of nerve cells, making it difficult to form or access memories.

Do you experience unpleasant symptoms, such as irritability, fatigue, or forgetfulness? Contact us to be assessed by a mental health expert.

What Does Research Say?

Researchers have long investigated the link between depression and memory loss, including short-term impairments and memory loss associated with dementia. According to a 2013 study [15*] , people with depression couldn’t recognize objects on a screen similar to those they had previously seen. As per the researchers, this shows that memory can diminish due to depression.

2014 review [16*]  highlights that “compared with controls, people with depression had a lower executive function, memory, and attention.” The authors of the study state that these cognitive impairments are “a core feature of depression.”

Another 2015 study [17*]  also discovered that depression was associated with working memory capacity deficit. Working memory is the ability to hold and use certain information quickly, such as when we need to follow simple directions or remember a phone number. According to the study, depression can also affect autobiographical memory. In addition, a 2019 research study found that depression can disrupt cognitive functions, including short-term and long-term memory, and the International Neuropsychiatric Disease Journal states that some depression medications can also affect memory in patients.

However, recent research found that individuals with depression do not generally have difficulty with worsening memory recall. But compared to individuals not suffering from depression, depressed people tend to remember negative memories easier than positive ones.

Short-Term Memory Loss

People with depression often have problems with short-term memory loss, but they are also likely to struggle with long-term changes. Much research, including a 2018 study [18*] , found that people with memory complaints had more severe depression symptoms.

In a fascinating study in the Archives of General Psychiatry [19*] , some researchers evaluated memory and mood in about 5,781 women 65 years and older. In the beginning, 3.6% of these women had six or more depression symptoms, and nearly 93% were not treated. After four years, during a follow-up, the higher the depression symptoms were, the lower results the women achieved in cognitive tests. They also had difficulty performing an executive function. These are responsible for skills that help individuals pay attention, focus on tasks, and self-monitor their behavior.

Nevertheless, in some cases, depression causes memory loss in younger people too. Another 2013 study [20*]  on young adults discovered that people with higher depressive symptoms scored worse on a cognitive test known as pattern separation. It is a mechanism used to encode memories. And according to other researchers, depression occurring later in life may be a potential precursor to Alzheimer’s disease [21*] .


British Journal of Psychiatry [22*]  study shows that untreated depression dramatically increases the risk of dementia. Depression doubles the risk of cognitive impairment in women and quadruplets in male patients. Other research [23*]  has also discovered that people with depression may have lesser gray matter. The volume of gray matter declines in areas of the brain associated with working memory and emotion. This suggests that dementia and depression may have similar structural effects on the brain resulting in the same symptoms.

So, when it comes to the question “Is memory loss a symptom of depression?” researchers state that cognitive impairments shown by some older depression patients could be a warning sign of dementia or neurodegenerative condition.

The symptoms of depression can be overcome with the help of an experienced doctor.

Antidepressants for Depression and Forgetfulness

To restore or preserve your memory issues caused by any mental health condition, you must seek treatment for depression and cure it. However, be aware that a few scientific studies have associated some depression medication, or antidepressants, with memory loss as well.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and Tricyclic antidepressants have been linked to increased risks of cognitive decline, according to a Psychiatry Journal 2016 study [24*] . More research might explain whether this cognitive decline continues or improves after the individual adjusts to the medication.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also a depression treatment linked with memory loss. ECT involves altering the brain chemistry by pulsing small electric currents into the brain to trigger brief seizures. This can cause confusion and short-term memory loss following the treatment. Research shows that ECT can result in retrograde amnesia, where patients experience memory gaps extending for weeks, months, or even years. In addition, ECT is done under general anesthesia, which is also linked to memory problems.

However, there are many alternative antidepressant remedies that can be effective in treating depression.

Is Memory Loss from Depression Permanent?

When the underlying depressive symptoms are treated, memory problems typically wane. However, memory loss can also be caused by several variables, making the topic complex. From grief and stress to sleep deprivation, insomnia, and drug usage, there are many causes of memory loss:

  • Normal age-related memory loss
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Minor head injury or trauma
  • Forgetfulness
  • Brain tumors or infections
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Alcoholism or drug abuse
  • Hypothyroidism

Remember, each memory loss case is unique. If you are experiencing depression and memory loss, treating the depression symptoms will also address memory problems. However, if other underlying causes exist, your treatment plan to eliminate memory issues may be more complicated. Working with a healthcare professional will help you create a personalized plan that will work for you.

The Bottom Line

Consider seeking medical assistance to understand if your memory loss issues are related to depression. You can have a brain imaging procedure that differentiates underlying brain patterns linked with these conditions. You can also begin working on your memory at home by playing some cognitive games, such as Sudoku, crossword puzzles, or other games that stimulate the mind. You can also follow an exercise program to keep your brain active. Memory loss caused by depression can also improve or worsen depending on an individual’s mental or emotional state. To know more about this problem and the ways to solve it, contact our professionals by clicking the button below!


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