Background. Neuropsychological studies have suggested that memory systems reliant on medial temporal lobe structures are impaired in patients with depression. There is less data regarding whether this impairment is specific to recollection memory systems, and whether clinical features predict impairment. This study sought to address these issues.
Method. A computerized process-dissociation memory task was utilized to dissociate recollection and habit memory in 40 patients with past or current major depression and 40 age, sex and IQ matched non-psychiatric control subjects. The Cognitive Failures Questionnaire was used to assess patients’ perceptions of day-to-day memory failures.
Results. Patients had impaired recollection memory (t = 4·7, P<0·001), but no impairment in habit memory when compared to controls. Recollection memory performance was not predicted by indices of current mood state, but was predicted by self-assessments of impairment (β = −0·33; P = 0·008) and past number of depressions (β = −0·41; P = 0·001). There was no evidence that standard therapy with antidepressant medication either improved or worsened memory performance.
Conclusions. The results confirm that patients with multiple past depressions have reduced function on recollection memory tasks, but not on habit memory performance. The memory deficits were independent of current mood state but related to past course of illness and significant enough that patients detected impairment in day-to-day memory function.