Mental Health Treatment Extends the Lives of Depressed Seniors
> 12/7/2007 12:19:22 PM

Depression and diabetes occur in disproportionate numbers among the elderly, and both may seriously compromise quality of life during a period in which patients already stand a greater risk of contracting any number of unrelated afflictions. Alzheimer's disease, dementia, Parkinson's disease and similar conditions common to senior citizens have been known to correlate highly with depression diagnoses; diabetes, being more common than these disorders, holds a greater degree of potential influence. Studies have established a state of dual causality between the two conditions, and their simultaneous presence is clearly related in ways we've only begun to understand.

Clinical depression tends to be more pervasive among the over-65 population, who find it difficult to rebound from periods of deep sadness and often refrain from seeking treatment due to concerns regarding their own financial limitations or a desire to avoid creating inconvenience for their loved ones and caregivers. In far too many cases, their final years are marked by a near-opaque shadow of despair and hopelessness that can lead to premature mortality. And their cases can be overlooked even when symptoms clearly present themselves, their devastating effects attributed to the natural physical and cognitive declines that come with age. There's no question that many of the downcast moods common to the aging experience have outside causes and do not add up to a clinical condition. Physical ailments, less-than-active lifestyles, the deaths of friends and family and a perceived abandonment by loved ones can all facilitate periods of depression. But when sadness becomes severe and recurrent to a degree warranting diagnosis, treatment not only brightens the spirits of afflicted seniors, it can actually extend their lives.

The most recent related study concerned 584 randomly selected adults aged 60-94 who'd been identified through a positive depression screening; nearly 1 in 4 also suffered from diabetes. Patients were then divided into two groups: those who received standard care and those placed under a depression management intervention in which depression specialists worked with primary care providers in order to recommend specialized treatments. At the time of the five-year follow-up report, more than 100 of these patients were deceased, and, in the study's most interesting finding, those with both diabetes and depression who did not receive the tailored treatment were twice as likely to have died in the interim. The conclusions drawn from these numbers are, of course, somewhat speculative, but it would seem that receiving treatment for depression reduces the likelihood of mortality in patients suffering from comorbid disorders. This conclusion is an obvious assumption based on the established detrimental influence of depression on physical health. The study's larger, point, that treatment for depression improves every aspect of an affected senior's life, cannot be denied.

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