This is the first study to report that successful treatment of depression in older adults also improves their ability to perform tasks critical to independent living such as keeping track of medications or managing money. Prior clinical trials of successful treatment of depression in this age group reported improvement in emotional functioning, but had not demonstrated that improved emotional health also translated into improved physical health. Older adults with depression report persistent greater functional impairment than those without depression.
"This study is important for two reasons," said Christopher Callahan, M.D., Cornelius W. and Yvonne Pettinga Professor in Aging Research at the IU School of Medicine. "First, it shows that even older adults with failing physical health can be successfully treated for depression. Second, it shows that treating the depression also helps slow the physical decline."
Dr. Callahan is director of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and principal author of the article.
Study participants were placed randomly into two groups. One group received standard care for depression from their primary care physician. A depression clinical specialist (a nurse or psychologist) as well the patient's primary care physician co-managed depression treatment for those in the second group.
In both groups, patients whose depression improved were more likely to experience improvement in physical functioning than patients whose depression was not successfully treated, the study found.