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Am J Psychiatry. 2002 Jul;159(7):1119-26.

Executive dysfunction in geriatric depression.

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  • 1Joan and Sanford I. Weill College of Medicine, Cornell University, New York, USA.



The purpose of this study was to characterize the neuropsychological presentation of geriatric depression and to determine whether depression-related executive dysfunction is more pronounced during advanced age.


The attention and executive functioning of 40 adults with major depression were compared with those of 40 healthy comparison subjects; 20 subjects were 20-60 years old, and 20 were > or =61 years. It was hypothesized that depressed subjects, regardless of age, would perform more poorly than comparison subjects on both attention and executive tasks but that the older depressed adults would evidence significantly greater impairment on executive measures.


A significant interaction between age and depressive status was noted for tasks of executive functioning, while no age-depression interaction was found for tasks of selective or sustained attention. Older depressed adults demonstrated the slowest psychomotor speed and the poorest performance on tasks requiring set shifting, problem solving, and initiation of novel responses.


Patients with late-life depression have significant impairment in executive functioning. These findings can guide the development of stimulated functional neuroimaging paradigms that may clarify the pathophysiology of geriatric depression. Timely identification of attentional and executive processes fundamental to the daily functioning of depressed older adults may lead to compensatory strategies that will improve the outcomes of late-life depression.

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