I am actually getting stupider: The THINC-it test in depression

THINC-it test results

Despite what the title might suggest, this post isn’t about me being self-critical.  I have been struggling for months with cognitive symptoms of depression, and on a daily basis I notice that it impairs my functioning.  But it’s not something I’ve ever had much of an objective sense of.

Measuring cognitive function in depression

Until yesterday.  As a nurse working in psychiatry, I need to keep up my knowledge base, and my preferred way to do that is by watching webinars.  I decided I would get going right away for 2018, and watched a presentation on depression and cognition by Dr. Roger McIntyre, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto who does some really interesting research.  So much of what he said resonated that I felt like he was talking about me.  He mentioned one study that found that people in their mid-thirties experiencing cognitive symptoms of depression performed about the same on cognitive testing tasks as people with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (legally impaired to drive).  Hmm, sounds about right.

Dr. McIntyre and his colleagues recently developed a tool called THINC-it to objectively evaluate cognitive performance in people with depression.  There are 5 elements: a short patient self-report, and then 4 different computer-based cognitive tasks.  As soon as I finished the webinar, I downloaded the THINC-it tool and gave it a go.

My THINC-it results

My results are in the picture above.  The ball on the left is my self-report of cognitive symptoms, and the next four balls represent the four different tests.  Green is good, and red is bad.  I performed abysmally.

It’s interesting to see an objective reflection of what I have been feeling for some time now.  It’s hard to be confident in my perspective of my own impairment when I’m stuck in the middle of it.  I do recognize, though, that I’m much lower functioning than I used to be, and the difficulties I have with basic tasks don’t match up with my high IQ and graduate degree.

Implications for treatment

One thing that Dr. McIntyre mentioned that I’d heard before in other webinars is that vortioxetine is the only antidepressants that’s been shown to improve cognitive functioning across multiple domains independent of its effect on mood.  I was actually saying to my doctor just the other day that maybe I should consider vortioxetine, but I’m not keen on rocking the boat by switching up my antidepressants.

Having the confirmation of this test, though, makes me think a little more strongly about making a change.  Depression is bad for the brain; there are cumulative neurodegenerative effects, and outcomes are worse for people who don’t achieve full remission between episodes.  For me right now the most prominent symptoms I’m having are cognitive, and while my current meds help somewhat, it just doesn’t look like they’re going to fully treat these symptoms.

So maybe it is time to try vortioxetine.  Yet the idea of a major med change terrifies me, because it was so hard to hit on this particular combo when I was really sick 5 years ago. This is perhaps the only time I have regretted that I’m seeing a family doctor rather than a psychiatrist.  I’m really happy with my doctor, and for the most part I’ve liked that I tell him what I’m considering and he gives me feedback on what he thinks is the best choice. When it’s something as big as this, though, a part of me wishes for someone who’s up on the latest knowledge in the field to take the lead.  Then again, I don’t trust very easily, and I trust my current doctor.

I’m not sure what I’ll decide, but I think I should make sure that I’m not just accepting the status quo by default.


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23 thoughts on “I am actually getting stupider: The THINC-it test in depression

  1. strangeset says:

    Good for you to not accept status quo. Wish you luck, must be a tough fight. Hope you will get good help. Have heard, meditation and exercise help. Possibly having friends too helps.

  2. Ashley says:

    Ah! This just explained why I feel stupid! I’ve been thinking my reduced cognitive function must just be a consequence of PTSD and not being diagnosed for two years, but this makes so much sense, especially in the context of how I feel as I transition off of Escitalopram. Still feel stupider, but feel like I have more creative function over the last two weeks. I hope you resolve the best option for your point in this journey, and in the meantime know that sharing your experience has really helped me!

  3. Brazokie says:

    Woa I had not considered this. I was blaming it all on my lack of motivation and ability to kick myself in the ass and be able to perform as good as I did 2 years ago at work. Now to think that may be gone forever… scary stuff. I also feel like I should get a psychiatrist -just in case- I get much worst and need to have my medication looked into more closely. Seeing my therapist next week, I’ll see what he thinks of this whole idea of the cognitive deficiencies and psychiatrist added to the team.

  4. marandarussell says:

    A few years ago I took an IQ test for my psychologist. I had taken IQ tests before for gifted classes and such and this time I didn’t score nearly as well as I had in the past. I couldn’t help but wonder if my ptsd, depression, anxiety, and my physical problems (fibromyalgia and cfs which can also cause cognitive issues) weren’t playing a role in the decrease. Even my psychiatrist now says there is no way that lower test score accurately portrays my IQ now.

  5. Luftmentsch says:

    I haven’t taken any tests, but I also feel sometimes that I’m not functioning properly, which I put down to tiredness and also social anxiety at work when interacting with other people. This bit (“there are cumulative neurodegenerative effects, and outcomes are worse for people who don’t achieve full remission between episodes”) I found very scary, especially as I rarely go into remission and never for more than six months or so at a time. I guess I shouldn’t worry too much, as I did my BA and then my MA mostly while very depressed and my boss hasn’t complained about my work. Still, it is worrying.

  6. fishrobber says:

    I’m glad I found your post. I’ve written before about my worry over declining cognitive function and what it might mean for later in life. I will check out this diagnostic tool.

    • ashleyleia says:

      I found it to be an interesting tool as it was different from the typical cognitive impairment tests for dementia that don’t really capture some of the problems that depression cause.

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