The fifth-ranked Brain Posts blog for 2012 was a review of research related to brain white matter hyperintensities and depression.
White matter hyperintensities (WMHI) are brain changes that can be seen with sensitive imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
These types of changes can be noted in individuals without brain or cognitive symptoms. The clinical relevance of WMHI are not yet fully understood. However, some outcome research suggests these changes are related to later risk for stroke, dementia and premature death.
A study of WMHI in elderly individuals from Norway added to our understanding of these brain changes.
Their study quantified the WMHI changes in a series of subjects and examined the relationship between these changes and symptoms of depression.
Individuals with WMHI changes in the frontal lobes had elevated scores on depression and these depressive symptoms tended to persist with time. Individuals with high burdens of WMHI throughout the brain also had increased risk of depression morbidity.
This study highlights the importance of monitoring for vascular changes in the elderly and looking at potential risk for vascular-related depression. Persistent depression symptoms in elderly individuals that do not respond to treatment should prompt consideration of medical causes of depression.
Photo of Christmas ornament angel from the author's files.