It goes beyond bad moods. Depression makes you lose focus and memory

Depression affects approximately 280 million people around the world, and affects 5% of adults annually, according to the World Health Organization.

When talking about depression, all that comes to mind are feelings of sadness, frustration, isolation, and sleep and appetite disorders. However, other symptoms of depression are no less important. Such as weak cognitive skills and perceptual problems, including difficulty completing tasks, inability to remember important information and events, and forgetfulness more than usual.

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Weak cognitive and perceptual skills

A study issued by the University of Cambridge in 2013, and published in the journal CNS Spectrum, revealed that people with depression reported memory complaints and a range of cognitive failures and disabilities. Such as difficulty remembering words and information, difficulty making decisions and setting priorities, as well as difficulty concentrating and thinking. They also reported slow response and acquisition of new information.

A scientific study – which included 1,123 university students, and published by the Science Direct website in 2020 – found that depression not only hinders the routine of daily life due to bad mood, but also strongly interferes with weak concentration, difficulty processing information, and deficits in executive functions.

A study published by the BMC Medical Journal in 2015 pointed to the role of depression and serotonin deficiency in cognitive dysfunction and attention problems.

The study found that between 85 and 94% of people with depression suffer from cognitive dysfunction and poor concentration during bouts of depression, while 39 to 44% suffer from the same symptoms during periods of calm.

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Structural differences in the brain

The Everyday Health website quotes behavioral therapist and psychologist Dr. Natasha Santos: She says that depression goes beyond negative emotions and mood swings, as it causes structural differences in the brain.

According to Santos, depression impacts cognitive functions, including the speed and effectiveness of information absorption and retention. It also hinders concentration, problem-solving abilities, logical reasoning, and other cognitive skills. As time goes on, these cognitive issues tend to worsen in individuals with depression.

Professor of Neuroscience at the University of East London, Cynthia Fu, explains – in her article on the “The Conversation” website – that 3 out of every 5 people with depression have suffered from memory-related problems. She explains that memory problems begin with depression and increase in severity with its recurring attacks, and can continue. Cognitive impairments even when other symptoms improve.

According to Fu, depression is associated with changes in the structure and functions of the brain. It reduces gray matter in the brain and shrinks the size of the prefrontal cortex, posterior temporal lobe, hippocampus, and amygdala, which affects many cognitive functions, cognitive processes, and executive functions such as planning, reasoning, and decision-making, especially with a decrease in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate.

Effect on short-term memory

Depression is associated with loss of short-term memory
Depression is associated with loss of short-term memory

According to the Healthline website, depression is linked to short-term memory loss, but it doesn’t impact other forms of memory like long-term memory or procedural memory. This finding was supported by a 2013 study conducted by the Department of Psychology at Brigham University in the United States.

The researchers found that memory could be impaired as a result of depression after participants failed to identify objects that were identical or similar to objects they had just seen.

How do you regain focus despite depression?

According to researchers, depression medications are not believed to effectively address the cognitive impairment associated with depression. In a study published in the Lancet journal in 2016, an international research team sought to examine the impact of three commonly prescribed depression medications on the cognitive impairment often experienced by individuals with depression. Over 1,000 participants with depression were involved in the study, which spanned eight weeks and included a series of cognitive tests.

The study revealed that despite regular medication, 95% of the participants did not experience any enhancement in the perceptual and cognitive challenges linked to depression. This is mainly because the medications primarily target mood improvement and emotional aspects, neglecting the cognitive aspects governed by specific regions of the brain.

The researchers stressed the need to focus on cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy, in addition to therapeutic medications, to overcome difficulties in concentration and memory.

Experts advise some strategies through which the impact of depression on brain function can be reduced, including:

  • Self-compassion: A depressed person should understand that depression causes structural differences in the brain, and that failure to concentrate is not a defect or a fault on his part, and instead of blaming himself and feeling guilty, he should be proud of everything he achieves.
  • Delegate responsibilities: Tasks can be delegated that can be done by other family members or colleagues.
  • Division of tasks: It is preferable to prepare a list of daily tasks to be accomplished, and divide each task into a group of small tasks. To manage tasks positively.
  • Focus on small successes: Accomplishing a small task at the beginning of the day gives you a feeling of satisfaction and motivates you to do more.
  • Adequate sleep: Depression affects daily sleep hours, so sleep habits should be improved to give your brain the rest it needs to focus the next day.
  • Regular periods of rest: Most people with depression have to cope with the duties of daily life, such as going to work and taking care of the family; So you must take regular breaks to move forward, such as taking a walk, practicing stretching and mindfulness exercises, or doing a relaxing activity.
  • Reminder stickers can be pasted in obvious places, making sure to add important reminders as they come to mind.
  • Designate a specific place at work and home to keep important items such as car keys and phones.
  • Take notes during meetings or use a recording device when appropriate so you can review the information later.

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