Contravening a pile of evidence to the contrary, researchers reported, that mild depression may probably protect elderly women from premature death. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, studied 3500 men and women ages 60 and older who were interviewed every three years from 1989 to 1999. The interview subjects represented a random sample of the local population. Some participants were married, some widowed and some divorced. Some lived alone while others lived with their families.
During the interviews, researchers screened the subjects for depressive symptoms to determine if they met the criteria for mild depression, meaning symptoms such as occasional sleeping problems or feeling blue but not severe enough to warrant clinical intervention. The study participants' mortality rates also were followed over the years.
The study revealed that women exhibiting symptoms of mild depression died at a rate only 60 percent of that of women of the same age showing either no signs of depression or suffering more severe depression, according to the findings. Changing levels of depression and seemed to have no effects on the mortality of the study's male subjects.
Dr. Dan Blazer, professor of psychiatry, the author of this study, felt that there is a protective measure from mils depression. Conventional scientific thinking and current data indicate depression has multiple harmful effects on physical health, from heart disease to suppressing the immune system. Therefore it can speed up the road to dying. But Blazer said it is possible that mild depression, which typically does not require medical treatment, could be a coping mechanism for elderly women that might benefit them in the long run.
"It may be a sort of message to the body that something needs to be looked at, that you need to pay attention to it," Blazer said. No one is suggesting depression is good for you, he added, but milder symptoms may not be as harmful as previously believed. In fact, Blazer added, this group of women probably reflects an average range of emotion. "Maybe this spectrum of moods is more the norm," he said.
Blazer said it's unrealistic to expect individuals to always feel happy, "like you should be popping out of bed with a big smile on your face." Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, a research psychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif., and a member of the American Psychology Association, told UPI although she is unfamiliar with the study, she is familiar with Blazer's provocative research that encourages people to reevaluate how they perceive depression and depression's effects.
The problem with depression in the elderly is that sometimes people become depressed by the regressive health problems that accompany old age and sometimes depression itself can contribute to these ailments. Gallagher-Thompson said that depression has been called the common cold of geriatric mental health.