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Holding back the blues: prevention research for older people

Holding back the blues: prevention research for older people

IMPACT study reveals the significance of depression prevention, particularly in our ageing population.


Approximately 10 to 15 percent of older people experience depression.

A miracle pill to banish the black dog for good would be helpful.

But, research from Deakin University’s Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation suggests repurposing an anti-inflammatory medication may not be a quick fix to reducing the risk of depression in older adults.

As it may be, the results can still help to establish a broader discussion for prevention versus cure.

Is there such a thing as ‘new medicine?’

Even in research, everything old is new again. From the studies of the past, researchers can gain insight into our re-inventive futures. Many of the most widely used medicines today have been used before for other disorders.

Director of IMPACT Professor Michael Berk’s research explores the use of drug repurposing. That’s taking drugs previously used to treat chronic diseases and showing their usefulness in treating mental health disorders.

Not only practical and efficient, ‘old medicine’ can help us to discover new novel therapies.

Image of scattered pills

Professor Berk notes: “It is also cost-effective and bypasses safety roadblocks because these are generally agents with known safety profiles.”

Even the humble aspirin first used to treat rheumatism, inflammation, and pain in the joints and muscles has the potential to be made new.

Aspirin, despite being one of the oldest medicines, is still commonly used for people who have experienced a heart attack to help prevent a second heart attack occurring.

It holds great possibilities for transferable treatment applications.

From a physiological perspective, depression is associated with increased inflammation. Meaning, aspirin’s anti-inflammatory properties could have an effect on an older person’s depressive symptoms too.

IMPACT research

Primary prevention aims to prevent a disease before it begins.

Over almost five years, The Aspirin for the Prevention of Depression (ASPREE-D) study has focused on the primary prevention of illness.

The study was comprised of a large, randomised control trial involving 19,114 healthy adults aged over 70 years in Australia and the United States.

Image of white pills

During this time, participants were either given a daily low dose of aspirin or a placebo drug.

Contrary to expectations, the findings from the study suggest that those taking aspirin did not have a lower rate of developing depression compared with those taking the placebo.

“Currently, there are no existing preventive medications for depression.

“If one could prevent depression with a simple, available, cheap, and safe medication, that would represent a major advance,” Professor Berk says.

This is not the end of the road for prevention.

With proactive lifestyle interventions on their side, people experiencing depression can still ward off the blues.

Psychological strategies like mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy and problem solving can help. And there are other medications that still have potential to prevent depression.

A new frontier

“Given the burden of depression – and the fact that the major victories in areas like cancer and cardiovascular disease have been in prevention, not treatment –  prevention is a critical next frontier.”

From a coffee catch-up with friends to a morning walk to get the paper, depression prevention looks different from person-to-person.

During this research, Dr Berk says it is common for risk factors of depression to overlap with other common non-communicable medical disorders.

For prevention to be effective, a ‘hitting-two-birds-with-one-stone’ approach is needed.

“There are many proactive things that people can do to lower their risk for depression, like being physically active, adopting a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and maintaining their social networks and supports,” Dr Berk adds.

For example, an older person getting involved in a game of lawn bowls could not only boost their social community engagement but also improve physical mobility skills.

This step towards a better life, while difficult for many, can have a transformative impact on the older mind.


Want to find out about more research with an impact? Head to Deakin Univerisity’s IMPACT Twitter. 

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