Depression affects more than 6.5 million Americans aged 65 years or older. For some people, they have been struggling with depression most of their lives, but for others, the onset is later in life. Elderly depression is closely associated with dependency and disability and can cause suffering for the individual and his or her loved ones. Recent research suggests that depression in older people can actually speed the aging process.
A study out of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that people who develop depression and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) after age 65 are more likely to be at risk for accelerated brain aging. The findings were published online in Molecular Psychiatry.
Researchers collected blood samples from 80 older adults in remission after they were treated for major depression. Out of the total subjects, 36 had MCI and 44 had normal cognitive function. Scientists looked for 242 proteins in blood samples that could be indicative of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic disorders as well as psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Brain scans were also done to look for signs of brain atrophy or shrinkage as well as the protein linked with Alzheimer’s.
Researchers determined that people with depression and cognitive impairment may be more vulnerable to accelerated brain aging, which in turn puts them at a higher risk for developing dementia. The study authors were particularly interested in understanding what happens in the brain when people are depressed and suffer cognitive impairment, so they can work to develop strategies to slow or perhaps stop the impairment from progressing to dementia.
This research highlights the need for early elderly depression screening and interventions among our senior population. It is important for the elderly to understand what causes depression, that it is not a normal part of the aging process and always warrants intervention. Moderately low levels of vitamin C have been linked to depression. One study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that low levels of vitamin C were correlated with both depression and higher mortality rates. The results suggest that it is prudent for older people to include vitamin C in their daily diets.