Atherosclerosis Linked to Depression in Older People

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Older people with hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) are more likely to have symptoms of depression, according to a study done by Dutch researchers.

Henning Tiemeier, M.D., Ph.D., of Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, Netherlands, and colleagues investigated the relationship between atherosclerosis at different locations in the body and depression in 4,019 men and women age 60 and older.

The researchers found that severe atherosclerosis was associated with a higher prevalence of depressive disorders. They also found that patients with severe calcium deposits in the heart (coronary calcifications) were almost four times as likely to have depressive symptoms, and patients with calcifications in the main artery bringing blood into the heart (aorta) were twice as likely to have depressive symptoms.

According to the study, published in the April 2004 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, existing research suggests a relationship between vascular factors, such as hardening of the arteries or calcium deposits in the blood vessels, and late-life depression. A theory has been put forward that atherosclerosis may have an effect on the brain, leading to depression later in life.

"In this population-based study, we found that subjects with atherosclerosis were more likely to be depressed," the authors write. "A combined measure of extracoronary [not in the heart itself] atherosclerosis was related to depressive disorders, although at some of the different locations the association was only moderate and non-significant. A strong relationship was observed only between severe coronary and aortic calcifications and depressive disorders."

Depression is not a normal part of growing old, but rather a treatable condition that affects more than 6 million of the more than 40 million Americans over age 65, according to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.

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