Biological Stress Linked to Depression in Older Men

People experience unique life events as they age. Death of loved ones, spouses, and friends occur more often in later life. Transitioning from being an income earner to being a retired individual, often on a fixed income, can be stressful. Many individuals develop physical illnesses that impair their mobility and their quality of life which can also increase psychological stress.

In addition, isolation is common in the elderly and has been shown to be a risk factor for negative mental health conditions. Research has shown that all of these factors make elderly people more vulnerable to depression. But the biological mechanisms influencing this relationship are still unclear.

To explore how stress affects an elderly person physiologically and biologically, and to see if this affect impacts risk for depression, Yuri Milaneschi of the Department of Psychiatry at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam recently led a study involving 948 elderly women and 1,027 elderly men. Milaneschi measured oxidation levels in urine samples to see if oxidative stress, a process that affects the immune system and lipid production, was higher in those with depression than those without.

The results revealed that cellular damage resulting from oxidative stress was evident in the 3% of men with depression, but not in the women even though they were more likely to be depressed. In fact, 5.5% of the women were depressed but no evidence of oxidative stress was present.

“The reasons for the lack of association in the present study between a measure of oxidative damage and depressed mood in women are unclear,” said Milaneschi. Behaviors such as smoking, alcohol use, and sedentary behavior, which are more common in elderly men, may contribute to the high level of oxidative stress.

Also, Milaneschi believes that hormonal differences and fat levels influence the way in which stress affects cell health in men and women. Regardless, these findings clearly show that oxidative stress could be used as a marker for depression in elderly men and could inform clinicians as to which men may benefit from interventions aimed at reducing other risk factors.

Milaneschi, Y., Cesari, M., Simonsick, E.M., Vogelzangs, N., Kanaya, A.M., et al. (2013). Lipid peroxidation and depressed mood in community-dwelling older men and women. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65406. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065406

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  • susie


    June 26th, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    it may not have showed up in this particular experiment.but fact is that depression can and does cause harm to one’s health.and especially in case of the elderly it is important for them to keep themselves away from stress or it could take a heavy toll on their health.

  • Larry


    June 27th, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    My father in law is going through this very thing right now, but with him we can kind of pinpoint that this all started once he retired. He thought that he would love being home all day and not really having any work responsibilities, but I think that now that he is really doing it he sees that this is not as attractive to him as he once thought that it would be. My mother in law still works because she honestly loves her job and she is not one who wants to sit around and do nothing all day, so I think that a bit of what’s going on is that he is a little lonely too. I think that one great thing for him would be to pick up a few part time or volunteer hours, but this does not seem to appeal to him too much.

  • SoNiA


    June 28th, 2013 at 4:12 AM

    I think that there are several things that we have to look at with this issue. I think that you have to remember that for a very long time men like this have been placed on a pedestal and they have been assigned the role of caregiver, breadwinner. I think that there are many of them who are lost in a way when this role is taken away from them. There are also those men who derived so much of who they think that they are from their careers, and when this is gone then they are kind of looking for who they are without that. Then you have to assume that many of them are now spending more time alone, which can be hard for any of us. Finally the financial worries can be totally overwhelming leading some to a depressed state. I am sure that there are biological issues to be sure that can cause the emergence of depression but these other thoughts can’t just be ignored either.

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