Severe Depression a Risk Factor for Stroke, Heart Disease in Older Adults

Older adults who suffer from high levels of depression that persist or worsen over time are at greater risk for heart disease and stroke, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

In fact, the findings show that the longer the depression persists, the greater the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Researchers have known that depressive symptoms tend to worsen as people age, and they have also found that depression is linked to heart disease and stroke in both middle-aged and older adults. However, until now, it has remained unclear whether depression and its symptoms are direct risk factors for both of these serious health conditions.

In a new study, researchers set out to learn whether symptoms of depression have a direct effect on future heart disease and stroke in older adults.

The study involved 7,313 older adults recruited from the election rolls of three large French cities between 1999 and 2001. None of the participants had a history of heart disease, stroke, or dementia at the start of the study.

Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with the participants at the onset of the study, and checked in with them again three more times; two years, four years, and seven years after their initial interview.

The researchers also determined the participants’ mental health status, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, and asked them questions about their medical history and medications. In addition, the participants were also screened for any symptoms of depression.

The findings show that 23 percent of the participants (nearly 30 percent of the women and 15 percent of the men) reported high levels of depressive symptoms. During all study visits, fewer than 10 percent of the participants were taking medications for depression.

During the following check-ins, the researchers found that about 40 percent of participants who had high levels of depressive symptoms at the beginning of the study were feeling better. However, another 40 percent of participants who had reported high levels of depressive symptoms at the onset were reporting new symptoms of depression at each follow-up visit.

The researchers found a direct correlation between patients who presented new depression symptoms during each subsequent visit and their risk of heart disease and stroke.

Specifically, adults 65-years-old and older who had high levels of depressive symptoms on one, two, three, or four occasions during the study had 15 percent, 32 percent, 52 percent, and 75 percent greater risk, respectively, for experiencing heart disease or stroke events over the 10 years of the study.

As a result, the researchers concluded that depression could indeed be a risk factor for heart disease or stroke. They suggest that medical practitioners pay close attention to symptoms of depression in older adults under their care.

Source: American Geriatrics Society

Depressed elderly woman photo by shutterstock.