Depression in old age “affects ability to
Lasting depression could lower the ability of adults over 70 years old to
fight off infections and cancer, according to a US study.
Based on their findings, the Johns Hopkins researchers say that detection and
treatment of even mild depression may be crucial for better health in older
The report, in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, describes an 18-month
investigation of 78 adults with an average age of 72.5 years.
The researchers compared 22 of the patients with mild depression with the
remaining 56, who were free from the disease, for their ability to generate
white blood cells to fight off an infectious agent.
They found that those patients with lasting mild depression had poorer
lymphocyte-T-cell responses, a measure of the body’s ability to fight
disease, for up to one-and-a-half years after the study began.
No significant difference in the risk of depression was found between those
who were married, those with more education or subjects at a higher income
Lead researcher Dr Lynanne McGuire, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said
that it was the length of time of the depression rather than the severity that
affected a person’s immunity.
She also speculated that the loss of immune function might be worsened by the
negative impact of depression on seeking or maintaining social support.
“Depressive symptoms can exacerbate and accelerate the immunological
declines that typically accompany ageing,” she continued. “The failure to
address chronic, mild depressive symptoms in older adults has important
negative physiological consequences.”
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