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New research highlights link between depression and stress in old age

Published: Fri 30 May 2014

A University of Bradford lecturer has linked depression with reduced amounts of a stress hormone cortisol in very old people when they wake up in the morning.

Cortisol is released in response to stress and increases blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system, helping the body to survive immediate threats, or prepare for the exertion of a new day. Prolonged cortisol secretion, which may be due to chronic stress, could have significant negative effects on the body in the long term, including chronic fatigue and cardiovascular diseases.

The Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR) is the increase in cortisol levels, about half an hour after waking. The CAR can vary, based on many factors including sleep quality, age, or chronic health problems, but the average increase is about 50%

Cortisol is normally secreted throughout the day, peaking in the early morning at 30 minutes after waking up.

The study combined data from research over a long period of time - 18 years (1992-2010) - with data from a shorter, one-week time frame (2010), from a sample of the Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The mean age of the 50 participants was 89 years in 2010.

Dr Helena Chui, who hails from Hong Kong and studied her PHD at Colorado State University, is a lecturer in the University’s Psychology Division. She specialises in personality and emotional development, psychological well-being in adults, emotional regulations, daily stress and the everyday emotions that affect our lives.

Dr Chui said: “Stress occurs throughout life, but advanced old age and an approaching end of life often bring frequent and severe physical and social losses that induce a higher level of depressive symptoms: this study suggests that stress experienced in the past might accumulate and ‘catch up’ on people as they enter old age”.

The University of Bradford’s psychology division is accredited by the British Psychological Association, incorporating a strong research-led environment. Its advanced laboratories enable practical and in depth experimentation, focusing on human behaviour.


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