Depression Intervention Lowers Mortality Rates in Older Adults
> 5/22/2007 10:58:31 AM

A study published sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health and published in this month's Annals of Internal Medicine found that, among certain groups of older adults suffering from major depression, those who received a treatment intervention combining personal therapy and medication were less likely to die in the five years following the inital experiment.

Strangely, these lowered morbidity rates occurred almost exclusively among patients who'd been diagnosed with cancer. Researchers have no precise explanations for this outcome. While some independent studies have made somewhat related conclusions, finding, for example, that women with major depression are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, few have addressed the issue of psychiatric treatment or personal therapy acting as a deterrent to death by pre-existing cancer.

Disregarding one's inital reaction to the data in this study, it's too early to make the full assertion that positive emotional states can actually curtail the physical development of certain malignancies. Researchers stress the limitations inherent in their data, noting the imprecise nature of determining levels of depression by using written surveys. They also state that, while depression is certainly underreported among seniors, it can also, when diagnosed, be incorrectly used to explain various physical ailments or unrelated changes in mood. Alternate research focusing on the effectiveness of treatment for adults with severe depression and major cardiovascular disease showed no significant difference in life expectancies between those who received treatment and those who did not. And the current study found no real decrease in morbidity among patients who were not suffering from depression or whose depression was classified as minor. Still, its results remain encouraging, suggesting that adults who seek treatment for their crippling depression may grow stronger in their fight against cancer.

In a more general sense, this study reinforces the idea that "Health professionals may mistakenly think that persistent depression isan acceptable response to other serious illnesses and the social andfinancial hardships that often accompany aging - an attitude oftenshared by older people themselves. This contributes to low rates of diagnosis and treatment in older adults."

Depression among older adults, far from being an inevitable product of the bouts of loneliness and nostalgia that accompany the aging process, is a life-and-death matter even when heightened suicide risks do not enter the equation. Further studies may well find that depression increases the risks posed by certain cancers and that effective courses of treatment truly reduce the mortality rates of patients suffering from both conditions. But for now we can only look to these results as a promising indicator of positive directions in future depression research.

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