Older adults who live in poor and violent urban neighborhoods are at greater risk for depression, a study by researchers from UC Davis, the University of Minnesota and other institutions published in the journal Health & Place has found.
“Given the shift towards an aging population and the growing rates of depression among older adults, understanding the factors that contribute to depression is critical,” said Spruha Joshi, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and first author on the paper. Neighborhoods in which older adults live are an important factor influencing depression and overall mental health, she said.
“We wanted to investigate the total effect poverty has on older adult depression, but also look at particular characteristics that might explain that relationship,” said Magdalena Cerdá, associate professor in the UC Davis Health Department of Emergency Medicine and senior author. “Specifically, what is it about poor neighborhoods that make people depressed? This study really highlights the role violence plays in affecting mental health.”
While previous studies revealed a link between poverty and depression, few have focused exclusively on older adults. In addition, previous efforts had not addressed the many conditions in poor neighborhoods that could contribute to older adult depression. “Older adults tend to be less mobile and more dependent on the amenities, services and sources of social support in the neighborhoods where they live,” Joshi said.
For the study, the researchers queried data from the New York City Neighborhood and Mental Health in the Elderly Study II (NYCNAMES II), a three-year study of elderly residents in the nation’s most populous city. Depression was measured using the nine-question Patient Health Questionnaire.
The team looked at several neighborhood factors that might contribute to depression, such as high homicide rates, poor perception of safety, pedestrian and bicyclist injuries, green space, social cohesion and walkability. The study sample was 61 percent female and 47 percent non-Hispanic white. In addition, 60 percent of respondents had incomes below $40,000. While many factors were examined, violence was the only neighborhood characteristic that substantially contributed to depression in older adults in impoverished, urban communities.