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Loneliness and social isolation have negative health consequences and are associated with depression. Personality characteristics are important when studying persons at risk for loneliness and social isolation. The objective of this study was to clarify the association between personality factors, loneliness and social network, taking into account diagnosis of depression, partner status and gender.
Cross-sectional data of an ongoing prospective cohort study, the Netherlands Study of Depression in Older Persons (NESDO), were used.
Setting and participants:
474 participants were recruited from mental health care institutions and general practitioners in five different regions in the Netherlands.
NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) personality factors and loneliness and social network were measured as well as possible confounders. Multinominal logistic regression analyses were performed to analyse the associations between NEO-FFI factors and loneliness and social network. Interaction terms were investigated for depression, partner status and gender.
Higher neuroticism and lower extraversion in women and lower agreeableness in both men and women were associated with loneliness but not with social network size irrespective of the presence of depression. In the non-depressed group only, lower openness was associated with loneliness. Interaction terms with partner status were not significant.
Personality factors are associated with loneliness especially in women. In men lower agreeableness contributes to higher loneliness. In non-depressed men and women, lower openness is associated with loneliness. Personality factors are not associated with social network size.
Poor recovery from depressive disorder has been shown to be related to low perceived social support and loneliness, but not to social network size or frequency of social interactions. Some studies suggest that the significance of social relationships for depression course may be greater in younger than in older patients, and may differ between men and women. None of the studies examined to what extent the different aspects of social relationships have unique or overlapping predictive values for depression course. It is the aim of the present study to examine the differential predictive values of social network characteristics, social support and loneliness for the course of depressive disorder, and to test whether these predictive associations are modified by gender or age.
Two naturalistic cohort studies with the same design and overlapping instruments were combined to obtain a study sample of 1474 patients with a major depressive disorder, of whom 1181 (80.1%) could be studied over a 2-year period. Social relational variables were assessed at baseline. Two aspects of depression course were studied: remission at 2-year follow-up and change in depression severity over the follow-up period. By means of logistic regression and random coefficient analysis, the individual and combined predictive values of the different social relational variables for depression course were studied, controlling for potential confounders and checking for effect modification by age (below 60 v. 60 years or older) and gender.
Multiple aspects of the social network, social support and loneliness were related to depression course, independent of potential confounders – including depression severity – but when combined, their predictive values were found to overlap to a large extent. Only the social network characteristic of living in a larger household, the social support characteristic of few negative experiences with the support from a partner or close friend, and limited feelings of loneliness proved to have unique predictive value for a favourable course of depression. Little evidence was found for effect modification by gender or age.
If depressed persons experience difficulties in their social relationships, this may impede their recovery. Special attention for interpersonal problems, social isolation and feelings of loneliness seems warranted in depression treatment and relapse prevention. It will be of great interest to test whether social relational interventions can contribute to better recovery and relapse prevention of depressive disorder.
Subthreshold depression (SUBD) in later life is common and important as prodromal state and prominent risk factor in the development of major depressive disorder (MDD). Indicated prevention can reduce the incidence of MDD among people with SUBD substantially, but needs to be targeted to those that are truly at risk of developing MDD.
N = 341 eligible participants with SUBD were included from the first (1992/1993), second (1995/1996) and third (1998/1999) cycle from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA) by using a two-stage screening design. LASA is an ongoing prospective cohort study in The Netherlands among the older population (55–85 years). At baseline (1992/1993) N = 3107 participants were interviewed and follow-up cycles were conducted every 3 years until 2008/2009, resulting in maximal 17 years of observational period. The proportion of people that developed MDD, remained SUBD, or recovered from SUBD was measured and Cox proportional regression analyses were performed to investigate 29 putative predictors of MDD and recovery from SUBD.
N = 153 (44.9%) recovered from SUBD, N = 138 (40.5%) remained chronically SUBD, and N = 50 (14.7%) developed MDD (incidence rate 15.1/1000 person-years). Women, high neuroticism, more chronic diseases, high body mass index, smoking and less social support predicted conversion to MDD. Men, low neuroticism and absence of pain predicted recovery from SUBD.
Although older people with SUBD are clearly at risk of developing MDD, the majority did not, even after a long and thorough follow-up. Given the risk factors that were uncovered, targeting and prevention of MDD in those at very high risk is feasible.
Severe depression can be a life-threatening disorder, especially in
elderly patients. A fast-acting treatment is crucial for this group.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may work faster than medication.
To compare the speed of remission using ECT v.
medication in elderly in-patients.
The speed of remission in in-patients with a DSM-IV diagnosis of major
depression (baseline MADRS score $20) was compared between 47
participants (mean age 74.0 years, s.d. = 7.4) from an ECT randomised
controlled trial (RCT) and 81 participants (mean age 72.2 years, s.d. =
7.6) from a medication RCT (nortriptyline v.
Mean time to remission was 3.1 weeks (s.d. = 1.1) for the ECT group and
4.0 weeks (s.d. = 1.0) for the medication group; the adjusted hazard
ratio for remission within 5 weeks (ECT v. medication)
was 3.4 (95% CI 1.9–6.2).
Considering the substantially higher speed of remission, ECT deserves a
more prominent position in the treatment of elderly patients with severe
Depression and cognitive decline are highly prevalent in older persons and both are associated with low serum brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Mutual pathways of depression and cognitive decline in older persons may explain the overlap in symptoms and low serum BDNF. We hypothesized that serum BDNF levels are lower in depressed elderly with poor cognitive performance (global or specifically in working memory, speed of information processing, and episodic memory) compared to depressed elderly without cognitive impairment or non-depressed controls.
BDNF Serum levels and cognitive functioning were examined in 378 depressed persons and 132 non-depressed controls from a large prospective study on late-life depression. The association between BDNF levels and each cognitive domain among the depressed patients was tested by four separate linear regression models adjusted for relevant covariates. An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was performed to compare BDNF serum levels in three groups (depression with cognitive impairment, depression without cognitive impairment, and non-depressed controls), when adjusted for potential confounders.
No significant linear association was found between BDNF and any of the four cognitive domains tested. There are no differences in BDNF levels between controls and depressed patients with or without cognitive impairment global or in specific domains after controlling for confounders.
BDNF serum levels in this cohort of older depressed patients and controls are not related to cognitive functioning. As BDNF is essential for the survival and functioning of neurons, its levels may remain normal in stages of disease where remission is achievable.
The consequences of co-occurring persistent loneliness and late life depression are yet unknown. The aim of this study was to get a deeper insight into the mental health consequences of loneliness in older persons with depressive symptoms and their perspectives of emotional distress by using a mixed-methods study design.
Two hundred and forty nine community-dwelling older persons with depressive symptoms according to the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (≥6) were included. A validated cut-off score on the Loneliness Scale was used to distinguish lonely elders from elders who were not lonely. Quantitative and qualitative data were used to examine differences in mental health and perspectives on emotional distress between lonely and not lonely older persons with depressive symptoms.
Loneliness was highly prevalent among older persons with depressive symptoms (87.8%). Lonely people suffered from worse mental ill-health (e.g., more severe depressive symptoms, more often a depressive disorder and a lower quality of life) compared to not lonely individuals. Depressive symptoms were regarded as a logical consequence of loneliness. Lonely people perceived little command over their situation: causes of loneliness were attributed externally to perceived deficits in their social networks and they mainly expressed the need to be listened to.
Our findings underline the importance of paying considerable attention to (severe) loneliness in older adults with depressive symptoms given its high prevalence and serious mental health consequences. Future studies should look into whether addressing loneliness when discussing depressive symptoms in clinical practice may provide an opportunity to better adjust to older persons’ depression perceptions and might therefore improve care utilization.
Late-life depression is a heterogeneous disorder, whereby cognitive impairments are often observed. This study examines which clinical characteristics and symptom dimensions of late-life depression are especially impacting on specific cognitive domains.
Cross-sectional data of 378 depressed and 132 non-depressed older adults between 60–93 years, from the Netherlands Study of Depression in Older adults (NESDO) were used. Depressed older adults were recruited from both inpatient and outpatient mental healthcare institutes and general practices, and diagnosed according to DSM-IV-TR criteria. Multivariable associations were examined with depression characteristics (severity, onset, comorbidity, psychotropic medication) and symptom dimensions as independent variables and cognitive domains (episodic memory, processing speed, interference control, working memory) as dependent variables.
Late-life depression was associated with poorer cognitive functioning. Within depressed participants, higher severity of psychopathology and having a first depressive episode was associated with poorer cognitive functioning. The use of tricyclic antidepressants, serotonergic and noradrenergic working antidepressants, and benzodiazepines was associated with worse cognitive functioning. Higher scores on the mood dimension were associated with poorer working memory and processing speed, whereas higher scores on a motivational and apathy dimension were associated with poorer episodic memory and processing speed.
Heterogeneity in late-life depression may lead to differences in cognitive functioning. Higher severity and having a first depressive episode was associated with worse cognitive performance. Additionally, different domains of cognitive functioning were associated with specific symptom dimensions. Our findings on the use of psychotropic medication suggest that close monitoring on cognitive side effects is needed.
It is generally assumed that the elderly patients are more vulnerable to cognitive side effects after electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) than younger depressed patients. The current study aims to evaluate the nature and extent of changes across multiple domains of neurocognitive functioning in a group of elderly depressed patients after ECT.
In this prospective naturalistic study, we included 42 depressed patients aged ≥55 years. Global cognitive function, memory, and executive function were assessed before ECT treatment and within one week (short-term post-ECT) and six months after ECT (long-term post-ECT). Associations between cognitive functioning and electrode placement, total number of treatment sessions, age, and the severity of depression at the time of cognitive measurement were studied.
Our data offered no evidence of decline for any of the neurocognitive tests after ECT, given its power to detect the difference. Post-ECT improvement of neurocognitive functioning was statistically significant for the Mini-Mental State Examination, Visual Association Test, 10 Words Verbal Learning Test, and Expanded Mental Control Test. Effect sizes were medium to large. After six months, compared with post-ECT performance, statistically significant improvement was found only for the Trail Making Test-A and the Letter Fluency Test with small to medium effect sizes.
In our severely depressed elderly patients, neurocognitive performance improved or did not change after ECT. Patients with poor cognitive function were not able to participate in neuropsychological assessment before ECT started. Consequently these results may not apply to patients with more severe cognitive impairment prior to the start of ECT.
Loneliness has a significant influence on both physical and mental health. Few studies have investigated the possible associations of loneliness with mortality risk, impact on men and women and whether this impact concerns the situation of being alone (social isolation), experiencing loneliness (feeling lonely) or both. The current study investigated whether social isolation and feelings of loneliness in older men and women were associated with increased mortality risk, controlling for depression and other potentially confounding factors.
In our prospective cohort study of 4004 older persons aged 65–84 years with a 10-year follow-up of mortality data a Cox proportional hazard regression analysis was used to test whether social isolation factors and feelings of loneliness predicted an increased risk of mortality, controlling for psychiatric disorders and medical conditions, cognitive functioning, functional status and sociodemographic factors.
At 10 years follow-up, significantly more men than women with feelings of loneliness at baseline had died. After adjustment for explanatory variables including social isolation, the mortality hazard ratio for feelings of loneliness was 1.30 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04–1.63] in men and 1.04 (95% CI 0.90–1.24) in women. No higher risk of mortality was found for social isolation.
Feelings of loneliness rather than social isolation factors were found to be a major risk factor for increasing mortality in older men. Developing a better understanding of the nature of this association may help us to improve quality of life and longevity, especially in older men.
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