Among aging minorities, depression has now been linked to an increased risk of chronic health conditions. According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, more than 50 percent of Chinese-American senior immigrants that experience depression are likely to have an increased risk of disability and chronic health conditions.
According to lead researcher, XinQi Dong, director of the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, “Depressive symptoms have extensive psychological and health consequences for older adults and the greater healthcare community. Our studies suggest a bidirectional relationship between depression and disability, in which the conditions reinforce each other. Further, those suffering from depressive symptoms are more likely to engage in negative health behaviors, such as physical inactivity, obesity, and smoking, and are less likely to adhere to treatment regimens. This behavior further exacerbates their medical conditions and leads to increased use of health services.”
The study looked at the relationship between psychological well-being and the onset of disability and chronic medical conditions among a cohort of approximately 3,000 senior Chinese American’s. Researchers found that participants who had depressive symptoms were more likely to suffer from functional disabilities. This includes mobility and the inability to perform daily lifestyle activities. They also found that depression and chronic health conditions increased hospital visits, worsened medical prognosis, and led to increased mortality.
It is estimated that approximately 54 percent of U.S. Chinese seniors experience various levels of disability and depression, with women being more affected than men. Depression has been shown to be twice as likely to occur in older Chinese American’s suffering from chronic health conditions such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.
“As their physical health declines, older Chinese Americans frequently turn to hospitals and emergency departments to treat their symptoms, which does not address the underlying depression, said Dong. “Economic implications of increased hospitalizations notwithstanding, without proper screening for depression, symptoms are left underrecognized and untreated, leading to poorer health outcomes and even death.”
“Depression disproportionately affects older Chinese Americans, which puts them at significant risk for developing functional disabilities and chronic health conditions,” he added. “Our studies demonstrate the need to develop culturally appropriate interventions and screenings to address depressive symptoms and reduce the onset of disability in minority populations. Mental health professionals and primary care providers must work collaboratively to address vulnerable minority populations’ diverse care needs. By working together, healthcare providers can provide a more equitable standard of care to all patients.”
Researcher Dexia Kong added, “What is very evident from these studies is that mental health status compounds the health and well-being of older Chinese Americans and increases their cost of care. Consequently, the integration of behavioral health and primary care is essential to effectively serve this population and prevent functional disability, which even further exacerbates medical treatment.”
Within the aging minority community, there should be a focus put on those already diagnosed with depression, and the need to be extra diligent with healthy lifestyle practices as it has now been linked with an increased risk of chronic health conditions. Physicians need to keep in mind that there is a need for culturally relevant depression screenings to prevent the onset of disability and improve the management of chronic medical conditions.