brain 180Almost all people diagnosed with depression experience cognitive dysfunction during the course of their disorder, but only half have ever been asked about these symptoms by a healthcare professional, a new survey has discovered.

The survey found that 99% of those diagnosed with depression have experienced at least one symptom of cognitive dysfunction during an episode of depression. Furthermore, the survey indicates that these symptoms can have an enormous effect on an individual’s working life, with 15% reporting that symptoms have caused them to lose their job. 

Cognitive functions influence every aspect of our lives and are responsible for how we learn, remember, problem-solve and make decisions. Those who experience cognitive dysfunction will encounter problems in these essential brain-based skills, which will impact upon their education, work, and personal life. 

The survey, written in collaboration with Depression Alliance and funded by pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Ltd, set out to explore the impact of cognitive dysfunction on everyday lives of British adults diagnosed with depression. The most common cognitive symptoms reported by patients were difficulty concentrating (91%), slowed thought processing (84%) and difficulty with planning and organising (79%). 

Although these findings indicate that cognitive dysfunction impacts the vast majority of those experiencing depression, only half of those surveyed said that they had ever been asked about their cognitive symptoms by a healthcare professional. As improving cognitive symptoms during an episode of depression can significantly improve the chance of a functional recovery from depression, these results suggest a large number of patients could be missing out on treatment for an important aspect of their disorder.

“For those of us who have never experienced any cognitive symptoms, it can be hard to appreciate the effect these symptoms have on day-to-day life,” said Emer O'Neill, chief executive of Depression Alliance. “Results from this survey demonstrate how certain aspects of peoples personal lives can be impacted by their cognitive dysfunction. People diagnosed with depression said that the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction can make talking to others more challenging than usual (73%), normal hobbies and interests more difficult to do (68%) and day-to-day chores requiring organisation more difficult to complete (68%).

As well as impacting the personal lives of people diagnosed with depression, cognitive dysfunction can significantly affect a patients’ working life. Three quarters of people diagnosed with depression reported lacking focus or interest in what they were doing at work (76%) and feeling less confident at work (75%) due to their cognitive symptoms. 

Government-commissioned research in 2010 found that people unable to work because of depression lose £8.97 billion of potential earnings per year in England. These findings demonstrate the importance of addressing cognitive dysfunction in depression if patients are to live a normal working life.

“Although the impact of depression on mood is generally well understood by both healthcare professionals and the public, the impact of cognitive dysfunction, such as memory and decision making is very often underestimated,” said O’Neill. “These symptoms can damage peoples’ confidence and cause them to withdraw from both their personal and professional lives. We hope that these findings will begin to increase understanding and awareness of cognitive dysfunction, encouraging both healthcare professionals and people affected by the condition to discuss and address these symptoms, in addition to the impact depression can have on a person’s mood.

“If we hope to provide the best chance of recovery for all those with depression, it is important that treatment pathways continue to evolve and take into account all aspects of this complex disorder, treating both mood and cognitive dysfunction.”