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Depression can be passed between elderly couples, study finds

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Depression can be passed between older spouses due to unsupported mutual reliance, a new study from Yale School of Public Health has found.

The report stated that the declining health of one half of the couple could often lead to depressive feelings. This was found to increase the likelihood of the spouse then showing symptoms of depression, and subsequently experiencing a decline in overall health.

Older husbands were found to be more susceptible to depression and frailty than younger husbands. Older wives did not report feeling more depressed than younger wives, but did experience increased frailty. For the purposes of the study, ‘frailty’ was defined as a person having three or more conditions relating to low body weight, weakness, exhaustion, slowness or physical inactivity.   

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Dr Joan Monin, commented: “First, spouses of frail individuals frequently act as caregivers, and caregiving can lead to depression. Second, frail spouses are often depressed, which can be contagious. Depressive symptoms may lead to greater frailty through different mechanisms. Depression can reduce the couple's social activity. Also, depressed spouses may lack the energy to provide support to their partners, exacerbating the partner's health problems.”

The study sample group included 1,260 married couples aged 65 or over, who were surveyed as part of the Cardiovascular Health Study. While similar studies have been carried out on the effects of depression on individuals, this was the first of its type to study the interrelation of depression between elderly couples.

Fiona Lowry, our CEO, commented: “This report shows how far loving couples are willing to go in providing support for one another. However, it also outlines the importance of spotting and acting on a care need when it’s required, in order to improve conditions for everyone involved. At The Good Care Group, we take a holistic approach to care in the home environment, prioritising both the physical and cognitive wellbeing of our clients so that they can make the most of their older years with dignity. An experienced live-in carer will provide expert help and significantly reduce the workload for older spouses, helping to maintain an active, healthy and independent lifestyle within the home environment. This enables couples to focus on spending quality time with one another, therefore alleviating feelings of depression and anxiety.”

 

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