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Depression Impairs Physical Recovery, Immune System Of Older Hip Fracture Patients

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A hip fracture is followed by depression for many elderly people, which significantly hinders their recovery. There is also the risk of additional complications in the form of infections and illnesses as the depression compromises the patients´ immune system, a research team from the University of Birmingham has concluded.

The study report notes that screening for depressive symptoms is not an established practice in the case of older people with hip fractures. This means that the surgery fails to deliver the best possible outcome for a large number of patients because depression is the key factor influencing recovery, Professor Janet Lord said.

The researchers studied a group of patients who had not suffered from depression prior to fracturing their hip. Six weeks after the surgery, 38% were found to be depressed and most of these patients were still suffering from depression six months later. Depressed patients had greater difficulty in carrying out daily activities, which interfered with their physical recovery. Reduced physical function is in turn associated with lower quality of life and mental well-being.

In addition, the study found that depression weakened the immune system of hip fracture patients, putting them at risk of infections and illnesses. As the report explains, depressive symptoms can result in reduced function of the type of white blood cells called neutrophils. The study found no such immune system decline in hip fracture patients with no depressive symptoms. The conclusion drawn by the researchers was that depression was the main contributor to immune suppression, making it extremely important to screen elderly patients and treat them accordingly so as to maximise the outcome of their hip surgery.