Enhancing Memory to Help Reduce Depression

By: Jenna Savage

The idea that memory and depression are linked is not new. In the past, researchers and other experts have discussed that depression seems to be linked with poor memory retention. In particular, individuals who suffer from depression tend to have trouble remembering specific events from the past. This, in turn, can affect the person’s problem-solving abilities, and may also cause them to focus more on their depression than other things. Then, because the individual is so focused on his or her distress, depression can worsen.

Knowing that depression and memory have such a link, researchers in Iran decided to see if improving memory can have the added benefit of relieving depression, according to a PsychCentral article. The study authors were the University of East Anglia’s Laura Jobson and the Medical Research Council of Cambridge’s Tim Dalgleish, Ph.D. Set to be published in Clinical Psychological Science, the study examined 23 Afghani refugee participants. The participants were all adolescences and their fathers had passed away during the war in Afghanistan. In addition, the participants showed signs of depression.

The 23 participants were randomly assigned to two groups. Twelve were entered into a memory training program and the other 11 were admitted into the control group and did not receive memory training. Initially, all of the participants took a memory test that consisted of positive, neutral, and negative words. Each participant had to recall a memory associated with each word. Each participant was also assessed to determine his or her levels of anxiety and depression.

After the assessments, those in the memory training group participated in a group session for 80 minutes every week. During this session, they learned about memory and practiced tasks that are design to improve recall. Their training also consisted of practicing recalling memories in response to the positive, negative, and neutral keywords. The control group did not participate in these weekly meetings.

The training period lasted for five weeks, after which all of the participants were once again given the assessments they received prior to the five-week training period. They responded to the keywords with related memories, and also had their symptoms of depression measured. Then, during a follow up two months later, they took the memory and symptom assessments again.

The study found that those who had participated in the training had better recall in response to the keywords than those who had not participated in the training. Those who were trained could recall memories in more specific detail. Their depression had also improved — they presented with fewer symptoms than the control group did. The study’s conclusion was that the improved memory recall had a positive influence on the participants’ depressive symptoms.

The study’s authors were quoted in the article as suggesting that memory recall exercises may be a good addition to the therapeutic techniques currently used to treat depression.