Older patients who have diabetes and are depressed may not take proper care of themselves. Treating their depression may help them to eat better, exercise and follow medical advice, new research suggests.

Results of this new research showed that older diabetes patients had a higher death risk than those without depression. The researchers suggested that older adults with diabetes may need to be considered a high priority for depression screening and treatment.

This study, which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, was led by Lindsay Kimbro, MPP, project manager at the David Giffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and included 3,341 people 65 years of age and older.  

According to Kimbro and colleagues, people with diabetes are twice as likely to be depressed as people without diabetes, and are also more likely to die sooner than people without diabetes. The researchers wanted to know if older people with diabetes who were depressed were more likely to die sooner than older people with diabetes who were not depressed.

Kimbro and team followed the participants in their study for six or seven years, and then looked at the National Death Index to see who had died in that time, and how long after they were enrolled in the study they died. Depression was measured when older people enrolled in the study using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ). The PHQ is a multiple-choice, self-report test used as a screening tool for conditions like depression and anxiety. Those who scored 9 or higher were considered depressed.

In this study, more than 32% of older people with diabetes were depressed. The researchers found that the risk of dying was 78% higher among seniors who were depressed than among older people with diabetes who were not depressed.