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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Health Note

Air Date: Week of February 15, 2002

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a study about how mild depression among the elderly can affect their immune system.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up, how an herbicide in compost is killing garden plants in the Pacific Northwest. First, this environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

[THEME MUSIC]

TOOMEY: Even mild depression can affect the immune systems of the elderly. That's according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who administered a standard questionnaire to a group of healthy older adults to determine who was suffering from depression. Then they used a mitogen to test the immune system function both at the beginning and end of the year-and-a-half-long study. A mitogen is a plant-derived substance that stimulates T-cell production in the body in the way bacteria or viruses would. Researchers found that those with mild but chronic depression had a 15 percent weaker immune system response compared to those who were not depressed. What's more, the older a depressed person was, the poorer the immune system response. Researchers say that mild depression often goes undetected or untreated in the elderly. But that's a mistake, they add, since chronic mild depression can exacerbate, and even accelerate, the immune system decline that typically accompanies aging. That's this week's Health Note. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Eberhard Weber, "Concerto for Bass", ENDLESS DAYS (ECM - 2001)]

 

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