Does Depression Slow You Down?

According to a new study led by Panayotes Demakakos of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, older people with depression walk slower than their peers who do not have depression. Gait speed, or the speed that a person walks, is influenced by a host of factors, including physical ability, range of motion, musculoskeletal health, and mental health. Although there has been some evidence that psychological conditions can affect gait by way of diminished physical health, there is little research focused on examining a direct link between gait speed and psychological health, and in particular, depression.

Demakakos wanted to explore how depression and gait speed were related and also to evaluate whether their influence was bidirectional. In particular, Demakakos wanted to find out if older individuals with depression had slower gait speeds than those without, and if slow gait speeds predicted depression in older individuals.

Using a sample of 4,581 individuals over age 60, Demakakos measured depressive symptoms and gait speed across a six-year period. The results revealed that people with slow gait speeds had a higher risk of developing depression in the two years following assessment than those with average gait speeds. Further, Demakakos also discovered that depressive symptoms were directly linked to slow gait speeds.

The results can be interpreted in many ways. First, as people age, they experience declines in physical health and mobility. These factors can decrease gait speed and by limiting physical ability, can eventually erode mental well-being and put people at risk for depression. Second, as depressive symptoms increase, physical mobility can become impaired, pain can increase and fatigue can set in, all of which combine to decrease walking speed.

The results presented here were consistent even after demographic factors such as marital status, socioeconomic status, and gender were taken into consideration. In sum, this study shows that gait speed could act as an early indicator for depression. Demakakos added, “These findings point to depression as a modifiable risk that needs to be targeted by disability prevention programs at older ages.”

Demakakos, P., Cooper, R., Hamer, M., de Oliveira, C., Hardy, R., et al. (2013). The bidirectional association between depressive symptoms and gait speed: Evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). PLoS ONE 8(7): e68632. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068632

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  • Claude

    July 18th, 2013 at 4:09 AM

    I wonder how you would know if this was an indicator of the onset of depression, when pretty much everyone who is getting older finds themselves walking at a slower clip then maybe they used to? If you know yourself or your loved one pretty well, then I suppose that I could see the cause for concern. And while it makes sense that if you are depressed, everything could feel like it moves in slow motion, this one might be a little harder to differentiate from just evry day slower going that comes along with the typical aging process.

  • Jake

    July 18th, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    I guess I always thought about depression dragging you down this way but in more of an emotional sense and not a physical sense.

  • Sunrise Guided Visualizations

    July 18th, 2013 at 7:56 PM

    I tend to favor the cause being becoming less mobile, thus later becoming depressed. Yet why is it so difficult to motivate older people to retain full mobility?

  • Marilyn

    July 19th, 2013 at 8:59 AM

    I have been having a lot of trouble with depression. It seems to be getting worse. I have also just found out I have a white mass on my right frontal lobe, so I am wondering if this is what may be causing it. I want to get back to my life, but have no motivation and stay in bed or the house all day.

  • Floating liquid

    July 20th, 2013 at 2:16 AM

    Think about it – when ur depressed u tend to think about something n walk slow.maybe that is why the two are related to each other? free mind does let u walk faster!

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