Shot of a senior woman in a wheelchair looking sad, depressed at a nursing home

Older adults with late-in-life depression are actually aging faster than their chronological peers, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut Center on Aging.

“These patients show evidence of accelerated biological aging and poor physical and brain health,” which are the main drivers of the association, said Breno Diniz, MD, PhD, a UConn School of Medicine geriatric psychiatrist and an author of the study.

Diniz and colleagues from several other institutions looked at 426 people with late-in-life depression.

The researchers were armed with the knowledge that when a cell gets old, it begins to function less efficiently than a young cell. Old cells often produce proteins that promote inflammation or other unhealthy conditions, and those proteins can be measured in the blood. Diniz and the other researchers, therefore, measured the levels of proteins associated with aging in each person’s blood and compared the levels of these proteins with measures of the participants’ physical health, medical problems, brain function and the severity of their depression.

The researchers found that the severity of a person’s depression seemed unrelated to his or her level of accelerated aging. They did find, however, that accelerated aging was associated with worse health overall. People with higher levels of aging-associated proteins were more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and multiple medical problems. The accelerated aging also was associated with worse performance on brain health tests on working memory and other cognitive skills.

The researchers now are looking at whether therapies to reduce the number of aged, senescent cells in a person’s body can improve late-in life depression. They also are looking at specific sources and patterns of proteins associated with aging to see whether this information might lead to personalized treatments in the future.

“Those findings open up opportunities for preventive strategies to reduce the disability associated with major depression in older adults and to prevent their acceleration of biological aging,” Diniz said.

The research appears in Nature Mental Health.