Public Release: 

Treating major depression in older adults with diabetes may lower risk of death

American Geriatrics Society

According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, effective treatment for depression could go a long way toward improving health status and even preventing death among older adults who also have diabetes.

Researchers assessing depression care management--consisting of trained depression care managers working with physicians and older adults to offer recommendations and ensure follow-through on those suggestions--found that older people with diabetes who received structured depression care management were 53 percent less likely to die over the course of the study when compared with people who received care as usual. The researchers concluded that depression care management also seemed to reduce the risk of death for people with other chronic conditions (except heart disease), but not to the same extent as what they saw with diabetes.

Depression has a number of effects on health, including changing how the body maintains balance and reacts to stress and making it harder for people to be physically active, engage in self-care, and follow through on treatment plans. While these risks have been known for some time, it has been less clear whether treating depression would translate into improvements in health.

In this new study, researchers evaluated 1,226 people over the age of 60 who had been diagnosed with major depression, minor depression, or no depression. Participants completed questionnaires about their health, including whether or not they had chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.

In addition to the reduction in mortality, the study also found that the structured treatment improved depression considerably more than did care as usual. Forty percent of the participants experienced complete relief of depression symptoms after four months of treatment, compared to 22.5 percent of older people receiving care as usual.

As one of the first studies to examine if treating depression reduces the risk for death across chronic medical conditions, this work highlights the need to integrate mental health and primary care services. Doing so may end up saving lives as well as reducing the suffering produced by depression.


About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that the public is empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit

This summary is from "Does a Depression Management Program Improve Mortality Among Older Adults with Specific Medical Conditions in Primary Care? An Exploratory Analysis." It appears online ahead of print in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Hillary R. Bogner, MD, MSCE; Jin Hui Joo, MD; Seungyoung Hwang, MS, MSE; Knashawn H. Morales, ScD; Martha L. Bruce, PhD, MPH; Charles D. Reynolds III, MD; and Joseph J. Gallo, MD, MPH.

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