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

Older adults with depression are more than five times more likely to experience decline in activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living, a new study has found.  

Decline was more pronounced in socially vulnerable racial groups, investigators reported.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 16,000 participants aged 65 years and older in the U.S. Health and Retirement study. They evaluated accumulation of functional limitations. They also compared outcomes between those with depression as measured in a test, and those with multiple physical symptoms of depression.

Seniors with high depression test scores or multiple symptoms of depression had 5.18 and 2.95 times greater accumulation of functional limitations, respectively, when compared with their peers without depression or who had only one symptom, the researchers reported.

In addition, Hispanic and Black respondents experienced greater accumulation of ADL-IADL limitations than white respondents, they found.

Prevalence and screening

Up to 5% of older adults in the general community are estimated to have depression. But the numbers skyrocket in those experiencing health challenges and who require help with functional tasks. Depression affects nearly 50% of residents in skilled nursing facilities, an estimated 35% of home health service users and more than 20% of those participating in hospice programs, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Considering the high prevalence of depressive multimorbidity and its symptoms in this age group, the study results highlight the importance of screening/treatment for depression “to slow the progression of functional decline in later life,” investigators said. This is particularly true among older adults with socioeconomic vulnerabilities, they concluded.

Full findings were published in JAMDA.

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