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Depression a Danger for Older Adults

Treatment Can Improve Life Even for Ailing Elders
By
WebMD Health News

Dec. 2, 2004 -- People are never too old -- or too ill -- to benefit from depression treatment. It's one of the most effective steps senior citizens can take to better their lives, regardless of their health.

That's what researchers found after studying 1,800 older adults with depression. Participants were at least 60 years old and members of eight different U.S. health care organizations.

Depression wasn't their only health problem. Participants had about four chronic medical illnesses, on average. Ailments included heart disease, chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

All of the conditions were serious, but depression was particularly devastating. The finding was based on measurements of physical and mental health, quality of life, and disability.

Depression severity was tied to all four general health indicators. "As depression severity increased, quality of life and physical and mental functioning declined, while disability increased," say the researchers. They included Polly Hitchcock Noël, PhD, of South Texas Veterans Health Care System, and colleagues from California, Washington state, and North Carolina.

The study has a practical lesson: Treat depression and life can get better, regardless of age or health status. "Depression may well be one of our most treatable chronic illnesses among elders," say the researchers.

But depression doesn't always get the attention it deserves. It may go unrecognized or get sidelined by other health problems.

"When faced with competing demands for treating multiple chronic illnesses, physicians may give depression less priority for treatment compared with such illnesses as diabetes or arthritis," say the researchers.

That needs to change, say Noël and colleagues. "Improved recognition and treatment of depression has the potential to improve patients' lives in spite of other medical [conditions]," they conclude.

The study appears in the November/December issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

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