Depression in Elderly Diabetics Increases Death Risk

The combination of diabetes and depression in elderly individuals increases the likelihood of death, according to a recent study. This increased mortality rate might be due to depression causing poor lifestyle choices and lack of motivation for treating diabetes.

Past research has shown a connection between depression and increased death rates in young and middle-aged diabetics, which was attributed primarily to poor eating habits of depressed diabetics (which often worsens the disease), and a lack of proper management for the disease (perhaps due to a diminished perceived self-value of one’s life). This is the first study to show a similar connection between depression and diabetes in elderly individuals.

The study in question was conducted over a two year period on 10,704 medicare patients in Florida, averaging and age of 75.6 years. The presence of depression, or lack thereof, in each patient, was determined through a combination of physician diagnosis, detailed questionnaires, and whether the individual had taken any antidepressants within the past year. Patients had check-ups every two months, and for those that died during the two year period of the study, the cause of death was duly recorded.

Initial analysis indicated that patients with both diabetes and depression were upwards of 38% more likely to die than diabetics without depression. After adjusting for factors such as age, sex and race, it was determined that 12.8% of patients with diabetes and depression died during the study, while 10.4% of diabetics without depression died. This is less than the initial 38% increase, but still substantial.

The significant increase in mortality rates for those with both conditions was observed across the board, but also varied with the severity of depression. For example, for those patients who had been taking antidepressants, which supposedly indicates a higher severity of depression, there was a 24% increase in mortality risk.

This is an important study that supports past research which showed a similar connection in younger diabetics. There are large limitations in what can be concluded, however, in that depression is a somewhat vague term, especially when considering severity, and the study was only able to focus on one region (Florida). It certainly does succeed in indicating that depression, and subsequent poor lifestyle and self-management choices, can greatly increase the severity of serious conditions like diabetes, which can often lead to death.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Gray, Leila. Journal of General Internal Medicine news release. September 2008.

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