Depression is so prevalent, it is often referred to as “the common cold” of psychological illness. More than 16 million adults will have at least one major depressive episode this year. Depressive disorders have already been linked with a variety of illnesses and health problems, including cardiovascular disease, eating disorders, and a shorter life expectancy.
The elderly population is particularly at risk for depression. Many people are living without their life partner, and suffering from loneliness; others are trying to cope with the loss and pain that stems from the aging process itself—whether it’s from the crippling pain of arthritis, or the loss of muscle and agility required to do things that once made them happy.
New research, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, reveals fascinating new insight regarding the devastating effects of depression on a DNA level.
Epigenetics is the study of genetic changes that do not affect the DNA sequence itself, but chemically change the DNA in a way that either either turns the gene “on” or “off.” Epigenetic changes occur in response to a variety of health, lifestyle and environmental factors. In this study, researchers focused on the epigenetic change known as DNA methylation, the addition of a methyl group to the DNA sequence.
Researchers examined DNA from more than 1100 people: more than 800 with a diagnosed depression disorder and more than 300 who exhibited no signs of depression. Using blood samples to examine how the participant’s DNA changed with age, the researchers determined that epigenetic changes occurred more quickly in people with depressive disorders.
The researchers were able to conclude that individuals with major depressive disorders had a higher degree of DNA methylation, which is indicative of an older biological age. In other words, people with depressive disorders, all other factors being equal, were more biologically similar to people older than their biological age than were people who did not have a depressive disorder, .
It was also clear from the research that the degree of depression, the length of depression, the age when depression first started, and whether or not the depression was caused from trauma, all had a major impact on the degree of biological aging in the individuals studied.
Although the biological age of people with depressive disorder was on average eight months older than a comparable individual without a depressive disorder, in individuals with severe depression, the age difference could be as much as 10-15 years. Individuals who suffered childhood trauma were biologically more than one year older than those who had not suffered childhood trauma.
Examining brain tissue samples helped the researchers further confirm their findings. Laura Han, lead author of the study, commented on her team’s findings, stating, “The fact that we saw similar results in both blood samples and postmortem brain tissue help support our belief that this is a real effect. What we see is, in fact, an ‘epigenetic clock,’ where the patterns of modification of the body’s DNA is an indicator of biological age. And this clock seems to run faster in those who are currently depressed or have been stressed.” Dr. Han pointed out that the difference becomes more apparent with increasing age, in particular after age 60.
At Hamilton Grove Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Hamilton, NJ, our care programs are designed specifically to meet the unique needs and interests of seniors and long-term care patients. We emphasize restorative care, maximizing each patient’s potential to regain and maintain function and mobility.
We foster an environment that is cheerful and enthusiastic, so residents truly relish and appreciate life.
Our outstanding Social Services team works hard to ensure that every resident thrives socially, emotionally, and spiritually.
We promote a culture of independence, crucial for emotional, social, and physical health. Residents are encouraged to choose their activity and meal preferences, and to perform tasks and activities as self-sufficiently as possible.
We carefully select, train and re-train our wonderful caregivers, who are especially sensitive to the needs of our long-term care patients. They treat residents with love, compassion, and dignity.
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