Late-life depression affects physical health and impedes recovery from physical disability. But whether milder symptoms that occur frequently in the general population increase the risk of developing a disability or decrease the likelihood of recovery remains unclear.
To examine the effect of mild symptoms of depression, assessed by a reduced version (10 items, ranging from 0-10) of the Center for Epidemiological Studies–Depression Scale, on the course of physical disability, assessed by items from the Katz Activities of Daily Living Scale, the Rosow-Breslau Functional Health Scale, and the Nagi Index.
A population-based longitudinal study was conducted, with 6 follow-up interviews of 3434 community-dwelling persons aged 65 years and older in East Boston, Mass.
The likelihood of becoming disabled increased with each additional symptom of depression (for the Katz measure: odds ratio, 1.16 per symptom; 95% confidence interval, 1.13-1.19; for the Rosow-Breslau measure: odds ratio, 1.14; 95% confidence interval, 1.11-1.16; and for the Nagi measure: odds ratio, 1.17; 95% confidence interval, 1.14-1.19). As the number of depressive symptoms increased, the likelihood of recovering from a physical disability decreased (for the Katz measure: odds ratio, 0.96; 95% confidence interval, 0.93-0.99; for the Rosow-Breslau measure: odds ratio, 0.86; 95% confidence interval, 0.84-0.89; and for the Nagi measure: odds ratio, 0.89; 95% confidence interval, 0.87-0.91). This effect was not accounted for by age, sex, level of educational attainment, body mass index, or chronic health conditions.
Mild depressive symptoms in older persons (those aged ≥65 years) are associated with an increased likelihood of becoming disabled and a decreased chance of recovery, regardless of age, sex, and other factors that contribute to physical disability.