Depressive Symptoms Up Risk of Death in Older Adults

Depressive symptoms in older adults are linked to an increased risk of death, including death from cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Yet these diseases explain only a small percentage of the deaths associated with depressive symptoms over time, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Previous research has shown that the risk of developing depressive symptoms increases with age and that these symptoms are linked to a greater risk for death. Depressive symptoms are also linked to heart disease and stroke in middle-aged and older adults.
Researchers have suggested that the depression-heart disease link may play a role in the increased risk of death among older adults with symptoms of depression. There’s also a known link between depression and deaths from cancer and falls in older adults. These links might contribute to an increased risk of death for older adults.
But since depression symptoms can change throughout one’s life, checking in to see if the symptoms are still persisting over a longer period of time — such as during an older adult’s doctor visits — could provide more information.
Based on this theory, the research team pulled health data from the Three-City Study, a French study that tracks dementia, heart disease, and stroke in people ages 65 and older during five healthcare visits over the course of 10 years.
This allowed them to investigate the role that depressive symptoms play in the risk of death over time. They also looked at how heart disease and stroke may influence the link between depressive symptoms and increased risk of death. Most participants were around 73 years old; 37 percent were men.
At the start of the study, 16 percent of the 9,294 participants had a history of heart disease, while around 23 percent of participants had symptoms of depression (28 percent of women and 13 percent of men). Nearly 7 percent were taking medication for their depression. At three follow-up visits, the participants were tested again for symptoms of depression.
Indeed, the findings show that symptoms of depression were linked to an increased risk for death, including death from heart disease and stroke. However, those diseases explained only a small percentage of the deaths associated with depression symptoms over time.
The researchers said their study suggests that, for older adults living with depression, preventing heart disease may not be the only factor that will help prevent or delay death. Interestingly, antidepressants were not associated with an increased risk of death in this study.
Source: American Geriatrics Society