Twenty-six elderly (> 60 yrs) patients with DSM-III major depression were compared to 13 patients with NINCDS/ADRDA probable Alzheimer's disease (AD), and to 31 screened normal controls. Subjects were matched on age and sex. Fifteen of the 26 depressed patients were cognitively impaired on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) upon admission, but after treatment returned to the normal range. These 15 patients were defined as having the dementia syndrome of depression (DOD). The remaining 11 depressed patients were termed depressed, cognitively normal (DCN). All subjects received standardized cranial CT scans for assessment of ventricular brain ratio (VBR) and CT attenuation numbers. Subjects also received neuropsychological evaluation.
CT values for the 26 depressed patients lay between those of AD patients and normal controls. CT values for the DOD subgroup clustered near those of AD patients. Patterns of cognitive deficits and correlations of CT attenuation values with cognitive measures were also similar in AD and DOD. Most patients were reassessed at a mean of two years after initial testing; of the 11 of the 15 DOD re-examined, only one had undergone cognitive decline. By contrast, all AD patients retested had declined significantly. Episodes of DOD and DCN tended to ‘breed true’. This study suggests that while patients with DOD may have underlying structural brain abnormalities, obvious short-term progression to AD does not commonly occur.