Study Suggests Depression Increases Stroke Risk in Seniors

A senior man looks worriedDepression is common, affecting 14.8 million Americans—almost 7% of the population—every year. Depression rates are even higher among seniors, with as many as 15% suffering from symptoms of clinical depression in any given year. Seniors with depression may face a number of health problems, and the pain of depression can lead to increased isolation—already a serious problem among older adults. Now, a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that depression could also increase seniors’ stroke risk.

Depression and Stroke Risk

Researchers recruited a nationally representative sample of 16,178 men and women over the age of 50. At the start of the study, none of the participants had experienced a stroke. Researchers followed participants for 12 years, administering a depression survey every two years. Researchers also interviewed participants every two years, while keeping track of their stroke risk factors.

A total of 1,192 strokes occurred during the study. Those who reported symptoms of depression were more likely to have a stroke, even if symptoms of their depression diminished in between interviews. This, the study’s authors suggest, indicates that it takes two years or longer for stroke risk to taper off after a depressive episode.

Among women, the correlation between depression and stroke was highest. Seniors under the age of 65 who experienced depression also saw a greater increase in stroke risk than did seniors over the age of 65. 

Does Depression Cause Strokes?

The study doesn’t prove that depression causes strokes. At this point, there’s only a correlation between the two. The study’s authors suggest a number of possible explanations for the depression-stroke connection, and these explanations may serve as fertile territory for future research. One promising explanation is the possibility that depression leads to other stroke risk factors. Those with depression may suffer from stress-related high blood pressure or start smoking to cope with depression symptoms.

Though it can take some time to find out whether therapymedication, or a combination of the two works best for you, depression is highly treatable. This study only adds to the avalanche of data suggesting that depression is an important public health issue. 


  1. Depression statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Fiske, A., Wetherell, J. L., & Gatz, M. (2009). Depression in older adults. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 5(1), 363-389. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.032408.153621

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  • manning


    May 18th, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    So maybe there is no direct correlation, but I think that we would at least be willing to acknowledge that mental health and physical health generally go hand in hand, and when one is poor the other is likely to be as well.

  • libby


    May 19th, 2015 at 3:43 AM

    or does having a stroke increase the risk of someone being depressed?

  • Kain


    May 20th, 2015 at 1:21 PM

    This is one of those studies that could clearly be seen from opposing viewpoints. I think that the biggest problem that I see with it is that stroke is going to increase as one gets older, and the number of senior citizens who suffer from depression is always on the rise as well.
    So the thought is that maybe these things do correlate or it could be that this is just a normal part of the aging process and that sometimes you happen to find a lot more older patients who are depressed and have also had a stroke. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other.

  • Julia


    May 21st, 2015 at 4:10 PM

    There are often so many things going on in the health of an older person that it is difficult to differentiate where one ailment ends and that another begins. I know that this can make the job of their doctors and their family members who are caring for them even more difficult.

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