Although heart and lung disease can take their toll on seniors, the depression that accompanies them can affect their quality of life the most, University of Texas researchers found.
Study author Polly Hitchcock Noel, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and her team collected data on 1,801 patients ages 60 and older who were diagnosed with major depression. The patients also had other diseases, including chronic lung disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, chronic pain, gastrointestinal disease and urinary or prostate disease.
"We looked at four measures of health status, including disability, quality of life, mental functioning and general health functioning," Noel explains. The severity of depression was the only thing that was significantly associated with all of these health status measures, she says.
"Depression can have a devastating impact on general functioning and quality of life," she adds.
"This is an important study of a large group of primary-care patients, conducted by well recognized investigators," says Dr. Jeffrey M. Lyness, director of the Program in Geriatrics and Neuropsychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
He says the study confirms and extends previous findings that depressive symptoms are powerfully associated with poor quality of life in older patients, even more so than chronic physical conditions. "This means that improved recognition and treatment of depressive symptoms holds promise to improve functioning and quality of life for many seniors."
Depression, according to Noel, is not often recognized by primary-care providers. "Even when it is recognized, it often receives suboptimal treatment," she says. Her research shows, however, that patients who received treatment for depression experienced improved quality of life and were less impaired and debilitated, compared with patients who did not receive treatment. "Treatment for depression has the potential to greatly impact overall health outcomes for primary-care patients over and above the relief of medical symptoms," she says.