Mental illness has physical effects

As if it wasn’t bad enough on its own, depression has now been found to cause seniors to be more likely to become physically disabled than their non-depressed counterparts. The results of a six-year study of 6,247 people aged 65 or older were published in the September issue of the American Journal of Health.

In the study, the 496 individuals who were depressed had a 67% increased risk for experiencing some sort of disability. The study defined disability as something "that impaired basic functions such as bathing, eating, dressing or walking across a small room." This figure of two-thirds more likelihood of a experiencing a disability is in comparison to the 5,751 participants who were not depressed.

Depressed seniors had an even greater ( 73% higher than the control group) risk of having what is known a "mobility disability", defined as things like being unable to walk half a mile or up and down stairs unassisted. The study’s authors note that none of the participants had any disability at the outset.

The research team at the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland, said that the "excess risk is partly explained the depressed persons’ decreased physical activity and social interaction." Although depressed people are more likely to smoke and/or drink excessively, the study didn’t find any correlation between tobacco and alcohol use and the risk of disability.

Depression is already a major health issue for the senior population, with the results of this study underlining the need for more research in this area. As the study notes, depression has identifiable physical consequences, as well as its well-recognized mental and emotional symptoms.