Damage to specific parts of the human brain are associated with a greater risk of depression in older people - but keeping fit and intelligence can reduce symptoms, according to new research.
Scientists at Aberdeen University used MRI scans and statistical modelling to find the link between areas of brain damage, intelligence, physical fitness and depression.
The scans were used to identify the location of brain lesions - usually indicative of blood vessel disease in the brain - and it was found that if the lesions were found in deep brain structures, the individual affected was more likely to have depressive symptoms than if the damage was anywhere else.
However, it was found that higher levels of intelligence and better physical fitness reduced the risk of depressive symptoms even in people with deep brain lesions. .
Professor of Radiology at Aberdeen Alison Murray said: “Our results confirmed previous findings that lesions predict depressive symptoms, but we went a step further to show that the presentation of depressive symptoms depends on where the lesions are in the brain.
“This is the first study that has determined what symptoms people are likely to experience depending on where lesions are.
“We found that if the lesions involve deep structures in the brain they are more likely to be associated with depressive symptoms, whereas, if they are in the brain stem and cerebellum, people are more likely to be physically impaired.
“In addition to this, we found that people with higher intelligence and better physical health are protected from the depressive symptoms associated with these lesions. This supports the whole concept that exercise is good for brain and mood and can reduce depressive symptoms.”
The team say their research means that in the future, doctors can use such information to identify old people at greater risk of depressive symptoms, and in doing so target appropriate people to treat.
The research is published in the journal Archives of Gerentology and Geriatrics.