Depression is a prominent concern for older adults; therefore, it is important to identify causal mechanisms so that prevention and treatment strategies can be developed. The vascular depression hypothesis proposes that vascular factors precede the onset of depression in older adults. However, although cross-sectional associations have been established, owing to a lack of objective assessments and longitudinal data, the validity and temporal nature of this relationship is unclear.
To examine whether atherosclerosis, an asymptomatic subclinical indicator of vascular burden, increases the risk of developing depression in older adults.
Prospective, population-based study.
Set within the Rotterdam study, participants were assessed on objective measures of generalized atherosclerosis at baseline (1997-1999) and followed up for an average of 6 years for incident depression.
The baseline sample consisted of 3564 participants (56% female) with a mean age of 72 years who initially did not have depression or dementia.
Main Outcome Measures
Depression was categorized into symptoms or syndromes and assessed in a multidimensional manner from physician and mental health specialist reports, pharmacy records (antidepressant usage), a clinical interview, and self-report.
During 21 083 person-years, 429 incidents of depressive symptoms and 197 incidents of depressive syndromes occurred. Individual atherosclerotic measures and a composite measure were not predictive of incident depressive symptoms (composite measure hazard ratio, 0.93; 95% confidence interval, 0.83-1.05) or incident depressive syndromes (composite measure hazard ratio, 0.97; 95% confidence interval, 0.81-1.16). An a priori power analysis indicated a sufficient sample size (α = .05; 0.95 power).
Atherosclerosis does not appear to increase the risk of incident depression in older adults. These findings do not support the vascular depression hypothesis and, alternatively, taking findings from prior studies into account, suggest either that depression contributes to vascular burden or that both result from an underlying biological substrate.