Connecting Memory Loss, Depression, and Poor Social Skills
by Alicia R. Ventresca, MA in Developmental Psychology, Columbia University
While memory loss with aging is actually very normal, it is nonetheless frustrating, even alarming to those experiencing memory decline or dementia—as well as their loved ones. With Alzheimer’s disease being the ultimate fear of many, awareness meets disconcertion in view of the statistics:
- All older adults face memory loss to some extent. (Defeatist as it may seem, the human brain is no exception to any other bodily organ: it is susceptible to years of wear and damage).
- Every 72 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s disease; by mid-century, someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.1
Frightened, confused, alone with their thoughts, it is understandable that those who suffer from memory loss have a natural propensity towards depression. In fact, it has been shown that memory loss and depression walk hand-in-hand into one’s golden years.2
A recent longitudinal study revealed that late adulthood memory loss may act as a trigger or cause of depression, MEANING: memory loss actually predicts depressive symptoms among older adults.2
But what memory loss and depression have to do with poor social skills?
Behavioral scientist Dr. Chris Segrin has the answer (view his website at Dr. Chris Segrin).
Dr. Segrin’s most novel study, to be published in the Handbook of Interpersonal Psychology this fall, focuses on interpersonal responses to depression. As stated by Dr. Segrin, “We find that the relationship between depression and social skills is robust. Depressed people tend to be their own worst enemy. They will go into situations that produce the very outcomes they dread.”
Not only does this settle the long-held debate of chicken-or-the-egg: what comes first memory loss or depression, it allows us to react in an appropriate social manner. Because we know that memory decline or dementia causes depression, depressive symptoms can be managed with proper social etiquette.
Depressed persons tend to exhibit anti-social behavior and poor social skills. Make a judgment call: can you help in a way that does not affect your own mental health and well-being? If so, offer social support (e.g. be there, be welcoming and extend personal invitations so that the person feels wanted).
Those who appear to be socially inept (i.e. asocial, rude, anxious, discomfit) consequently leave a distasteful impression. Instead of reacting negatively, try to keep calm and composed. Remember that this person is projecting their depression onto you; it is NOT personal, despite appearing intentional.
Feelings of loneliness and rejection maintain depression. Help counteract these emotions by offering resourceful guides. I recommend:
If you cannot extend kind assistance to the person displaying inappropriate social behavior, make an effort to be empathic; try to understand their suffering from an informed perspective; or think about the power of compassion and offer best wishes.
Because the depressed person lacks emotional energy, social niceties become arduous (e.g., checking in with friends, being friendly towards neighbors, interacting with co-workers). Avoidance, social indifference, and poor social etiquette become instinctive, and this internal conflict between sociality and isolation is what is meant by “fighting depression.”
Taken together, these tips may help the depressed person feel redirected rather than rejected (ultimately preventing self-sabotage).
Bottom line: memory loss poses an aberrational threat to one’s well-being and so a chain reaction ensues (memory loss > depression > loneliness and poor social skills). However, by implementing strong social etiquette, you may be able to alleviate these conditions.
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1 Alzheimer’s Association. (2010). Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 7(2), 1-68. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/documents_custom/report_alzfactsfigures2010.pdf
2 Jajodia, A., & Borders, A. (2011). Memory predicts changes in depressive symptoms in older adults: A bidirectional longitudinal analysis.
The Journals of Gerontology, 66B(5), 1-11.