Reinforcing the importance of taking extra care of your mental health, a new study has revealed that depression among older adults may lead to faster brain aging and memory problems.

Researchers from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine also found that slightly different brain structures were seen in elderly people with depression compared to those without symptoms of the disorder, StudyFinds reported.

The study, published May 9 in the journal Neurology, analyzed 1,111 adults approximately 70 years old who had not suffered from strokes. Study participants were initially given brain scans, psychological exams and memory assessment tests, then tested again five years later.

Using standard tests for depression, the researchers found that 22 percent of the participants were suffering from the condition or were experiencing some symptoms at the beginning of the study. Participants who had greater symptoms fared worse on tests of episodic memory, which includes memories of experiences and significant life events.

“Since symptoms of depression can be treated, it may be possible that treatment may also reduce thinking and memory problems,” said study author Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri in an American Academy of Neurology press release. “With as many as 25 percent of older adults experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to better understand the relationship between depression and memory problems.”

Study participants who suffered from depression were found to have differences in brain structure, such as smaller brain volume and a 55 percent chance of developing small, vascular lesions on the brain.

“Small vascular lesions in the brain are markers of small vessel disease, a condition in which the walls in the small blood vessels are damaged,” said Zeki Al Hazzouri. “Our research suggests that depression and brain aging may occur simultaneously, and greater symptoms of depression may affect brain health through small vessel disease.”

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