Study examines depression in the last year of life

Depression impacts quality of life at all life stages, but little is known about the factors related to depression in the last year of life. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 59.3% of individuals had depression in the last month before death.

In the interview-based study that included 3,274 individuals who died by the end of the study, depression symptoms increased gradually from 12 to 4 months before death and then escalated from 4 to 1 months before death. Women, younger adults, and non-white adults all had higher rates of depressive symptoms. Individuals with cancer reported escalating rates of depressive symptoms at the very end of life, while individuals with lung disease and impairments in activities of daily living demonstrated persistently high rates throughout the year before death.

Full story at Science Daily

Gut instincts: Researchers discover first clues on how gut health influences brain health

New cellular and molecular processes underlying communication between gut microbes and brain cells have been described for the first time by scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell’s Ithaca campus.

Over the last two decades, scientists have observed a clear link between autoimmune disorders and a variety of psychiatric conditions. For example, people with autoimmune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), psoriasis and multiple sclerosis may also have depleted gut microbiota and experience anxiety, depression and mood disorders. Genetic risks for autoimmune disorders and psychiatric disorders also appear to be closely related. But precisely how gut health affects brain health has been unknown.

“Our study provides new insight into the mechanisms of how the gut and brain communicate at the molecular level,” said co-senior author Dr. David Artis, director of the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, director of the Friedman Center for Nutrition and Inflammation and the Michael Kors Professor of Immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine. “No one yet has understood how IBD and other chronic gastrointestinal conditions influence behavior and mental health. Our study is the beginning of a new way to understand the whole picture.”

Full story at Science Daily

Overall time on social media is not related to teen anxiety and depression

The amount of time teenagers spend on social networking sites has risen 62.5 percent since 2012 and continues to grow. Just last year, the average time teenagers spent on social media was estimated as 2.6 hours per day. Critics have claimed that more screen time is increasing depression and anxiety in teenagers.

However, new research led by Sarah Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University, found that the amount of time spent on social media is not directly increasing anxiety or depression in teenagers.

“We spent eight years trying to really understand the relationship between time spent on social media and depression for developing teenagers,” Coyne said about her study published in Computers in Human Behavior. “If they increased their social media time, would it make them more depressed? Also, if they decreased their social media time, were they less depressed? The answer is no. We found that time spent on social media was not what was impacting anxiety or depression.”

Full story at Science Daily

Depression: Brief change in diet may relieve symptoms

In the first study of its type, researchers conclude that even a brief shift in dietary habits can alleviate the symptoms of depression in young adults. The findings offer hope, but more work is needed.

Science has now clearly established the impact of poor diet on overall physical health.

Consuming large amounts of processed and sugary foods increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

More recently, researchers have begun to focus on the impact of healthful or unhealthful eating on mental health.

Full story at Medical News Today

Teens taking oral contraceptives may be at increased risk for depressive symptoms

Ever since birth control pills first became available, researchers have been trying to understand the connection between oral contraceptive use and mood. A new study led by investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands adds important, new information by surveying young women about depressive symptoms.

Depressive symptoms — such as crying, sleeping excessively, and eating issues — can be far subtler than diagnosed clinical depression. But by surveying a cohort of more than 1,000 women every three years, investigators have amassed a unique trove of data about these subclinical symptoms. In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, investigators report that there was no association between oral contraceptive use and depressive symptom severity in the entire population they studied (ages 16 through 25). However, they found that 16-year-old girls reported higher depressive symptom severity compared with 16-year-old girls not using oral contraceptives.

Full story at Science Daily

Brain Stimulation Shows Promise in Treating Severe Depression

For more than a decade, doctors have been using brain-stimulating implants to treat severe depression in people who do not benefit from medication, talk therapy or electroshock sessions. The treatment is controversial — any psychosurgery is, given its checkered history — and the results have been mixed. Two major trials testing stimulating implant for depression were halted because of disappointing results, and the approach is not approved by federal health regulators.

Now, a team of psychiatric researchers has published the first long-term results, reporting Friday on patients who had stimulating electrodes implanted as long ago as eight years. The individuals have generally fared well, maintaining their initial improvements. The study, appearing in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was small, with just 28 subjects. Even still, experts said the findings were likely to extend interest in a field that has struggled.

“The most impressive thing here is the sustained response,” Dr. Darin Dougherty, director of neurotherapeutics at Massachusetts General Hospital, said. “You do not see that for anything in this severe depression. The fact that they had this many people doing well for that long, that’s a big deal.”

Full story at The New York Times

Sex-based differences in the development of brain hubs involved in memory and emotion

The amygdala and the hippocampus — structures in the brain that are involved in emotion, learning, and memory — have been found to play a role in a diverse range of disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. Research investigating the development of these two structures has shown that differences in age, sex, and pubertal status affect the bulk volume of these brain structures. However, researchers have yet to understand the dynamics of volume and shape change that occur between childhood and early adulthood.

“Because the amygdala and hippocampus have been so often implicated in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders from childhood through young adulthood, it’s especially important to understand how brain development occurs in healthy people, so we have a stronger comparative framework for when the process goes awry in disease,” said co-first author Ari M. Fish, a former Postbaccalaureate Research Fellow in the Developmental Neurogenomics Unit, part of the NIMH’s Intramural Research Program.

Full story at Science Daily

Feeling depressed? Mahjong might be the answer

When it comes to boosting mental health among older Chinese, it might be as simple as a game of mahjong, according to a new study from the University of Georgia.

Regularly playing the popular tile-based strategy game was one of several types of social participation linked to reduced rates of depression among middle-aged and older adults in China in the study appearing in Social Science & Medicine.

“Global economic and epidemiologic trends have led to significant increases in the burden of mental health among older adults, especially in the low- and middle-income countries,” said Adam Chen, an associate professor of health policy and management at UGA’s College of Public Health and study co-author.

Full story at Science Daily

Apathy: The forgotten symptom of dementia

Apathy is the most common neuropsychiatric symptom of dementia, with a bigger impact on function than memory loss — yet it is under-researched and often forgotten in care. A new study has found that apathy is present nearly half of all people with dementia, with researchers finding it is often distinct from depression.

Although common, apathy is often ignored as it is less disruptive in settings such as care homes than symptoms like aggression. Defined by a loss of interest and emotions, it is extremely distressing for families and it is linked with more severe dementia and worse clinical symptoms.

Now, research led by the University of Exeter and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in LA has analysed 4,320 people with Alzheimer’s disease from 20 cohort studies, to look at the prevalence of apathy over time.

Full story at Science Daily

What to know about amitriptyline

Amitriptyline is an antidepressant drug that doctors prescribe to treat depression. It also has off-label uses for other mental and physical health conditions.

Amitriptyline is a drug in the tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) family.

TCAs were introduced in the late 1950s as a treatment for depression. Since then, other less toxic drugs have become available. Among them are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, better known as SSRIs.

Doctors prescribe amitriptyline to people with depression who have not responded to other antidepressants. There are additional uses for amitriptyline that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved.

Full story at Medical News Today