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Depression and Diet in Elderly Community-Dwelling Mexican and European Americans

(PSYCHIATRIC TIMES) - Elderly persons with illnesses and inadequate nutrition can manifest age-associated cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disorders.1 If untreated, mental health issues may contribute to the public health burden of disability as the proportion of older persons in the population grows.2 In 2000, 13.1% of all Americans were aged 65 years and older. By 2050, that proportion will increase dramatically to 21.8%.3 Although some mental disorders can be treated with drugs and psychotherapy, screening for mental health problems in the elderly is not routine in health promotion programs in the community.4

Currently, Hispanic persons make up the largest ethnic minority group in the United States. They are also the fastest growing ethnic group among the elderly, and nearly 50% of the Hispanic population is of Mexican origin. Furthermore, there appear to be substantial ethnic disparities in functional status between Mexican American (MA) and European American (EA) elderly persons, with MAs having markedly higher rates of disability compared with EAs.5,6

Nutrition—including energy and protein intake and lean body mass—plays an important role in aging.7 As the size and diversity of the elderly population increase, nutritional issues will assume greater significance. A variety of physiologic, psychological, economic, and social changes that accompany aging can adversely affect nutritional status, causing serious nutritional deficiencies and generalized malnutrition. Functional dependency, morbidity, mortality, and greater use of health care resources are associated with poor nutrition.8,9 For older adults, nutritional status is a major contributor to quality of life.10,11

The primary cause of disability in the United States and the rest of the world is depression.12 The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be second only to heart disease as a cause of disability and premature death in established market economies.13 Between 1987 and 1997, the percentage of Americans in whom depression was diagnosed and treated more than tripled.14 The annual cost of depression has been estimated to be $30 to $40 million; depression affects nearly 18 million adults each year.15

Mood disorders continue to be a significant health care issue for the elderly and are associated with disability, decreased quality of life, functional decline, mortality from comorbid medical conditions (including suicide), demands on caregivers, and increased use of health services. Depression is the most common mental disorder among the elderly.16 An estimated 15% of all persons aged 65 years and older are in need of mental health services.17 Because previous studies have not focused on nutritional status and depression among community-dwelling elders, we conducted a cross-sectional study on cognitively eligible community-dwelling elderly persons.

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