Depression Makes Asthma Worse

Older adults have more asthma issues when depressed

February 15, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Mental health can often affect many different aspects of life, including physical health. New research suggests that older adults with asthma may have more asthma-related issues when they are depressed.

Researchers studied 70 older adults with current asthma living in Michigan. They asked them questions about how often they went to the doctor, what asthma medications they used and if they had any feelings of depression.

The asthma patients with depression had a poorer quality of life and more asthma-related medical issues.

"Consult your physician if you are feeling depressed."

Jacqueline A. Ross, MD, of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues led the study to find out what factors influenced asthma quality of life, asthma control and healthcare use among older adults with asthma.

For their study, the authors recruited 70 older adults from community clinics in Michigan with current, medically-diagnosed asthma. All participants were over 65 years old, used asthma medication on a daily basis and had access to a telephone.

Heavy smokers, those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and those with mental impairment were not included in the study.

In the beginning of the study, participants were asked several questions in a phone interview. Some questions were about details of their basic life such as education level, marital status and body mass index.

Other questions were specifically about their health history such as the age they first got asthma, how many asthma attacks they’d had in the past year and how many times they had to see a doctor for asthma symptoms in the past year.

They were also asked how much asthma medication they had taken in the past year and what other sicknesses they had.

The researchers put the participants into three groups depending on the severity of their asthma.

The first group consisted of mild cases that required only one type of asthma medication. The second group consisted of moderate cases that needed two types of asthma medication. The third group included severe cases that used more than two types of medication.

Participants responded to surveys that measured their feelings of well-being and depression. They were also asked whether they felt depressed.

Physical tests were done in the clinics to measure the participants lung health and allergic sensitivities.

The data analysis showed that depression had a significant effect on how the older adults in the study experienced asthma. This was true for both the participants who scored high on the depression survey and for those that self-reported their feelings of depression.

The researchers found that the depressed participants had a poorer quality of life and asthma control than those without depression.

Those that had the hardest time with their overall life functioning - like having trouble walking or thinking clearly -  also had poorer asthma quality of life. 

Additionally, study participants that lived alone were more likely to have unscheduled visits to a physician’s office.

“The isolated elderly are significantly more vulnerable because of fewer resources and lack of social support and are more likely to manage their chronic conditions by using various strategies to remain independent,” the authors wrote.

“For this reason, it is important for the physician to consider living situation as a part of the standard evaluation of an older adult with asthma,” they wrote.

The authors noted that these results show that caring for older adults with asthma should involve more than just treating their asthma symptoms.

“This study suggests that a more integrative approach is needed in older adults with asthma, with treatment of not only the physical aspects of asthma but the psychological and social aspects as well,” they concluded.

The study was published February 5 in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

The research was funded by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Inc. through an award granted to co-author Alan P. Baptist, MD.

The authors reported no potential conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
February 12, 2013
Last Updated:
February 15, 2013