Scientists from Colorado State University found social isolation is a big cause of depression in middle-aged and older people.
The research is published in The Lancet Regional Health—Europe and was conducted by Stephen Aichele et al.
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, with middle-aged and older adults disproportionately affected, a global demographic that is quickly expanding.
In the study, the team aimed to better understand the reasons behind how this age group develops the depressive disorder.
They used a machine learning approach to analyze data from a large, population-representative sample of middle-aged and older European adults.
Out of 56 variables examined, the team found that, for both men and women, social isolation was the primary risk factor for depression, followed by general poor health and mobility difficulties.
Other recent studies have identified social isolation as a key risk factor for depression in older adults, but the team also looked at 30 variables related to specific dimensions of participants’ social networks and family configurations.
For men, a fourth key risk factor was difficulty in instrumental activities of daily life, such as managing finances, taking medications, and making telephone calls.
For women, a fourth key risk factor was a family burden—women who strongly agreed that “family responsibilities get in the way of my being able to do the things I want to do” were at elevated risk for depression.
However, these gender-specific factors accounted for only a small proportion of differences in depression risk.
The team found depression prevalence in older women is about twice as high as in older men.
But the same primary risk factors show up for both (social isolation, poor health, mobility problems). The reason for that discrepancy has not been solved.
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