Tag Archives: depression


12927129-sad-coupleThough discussions of erectile dysfunction (ED) are becoming more mainstream, many men and women don’t have a good understanding of the condition.

Here are 4 important facts about ED:

1.  ED is often caused by diseases or conditions associated with aging.  Or it may be caused by side effects of medications used to treat the conditions.  It can also be caused by prostate surgery, stress, depression and problems associated with relationships.

2.  ED may be caused by tissues’ loss of elasticity and by the slowing down of nerve communication.

3.  Cardiovascular disease often leads to ED because clogged arteries affect blood vessels throughout the body, not just vessels of the heart.  In 30% of the men who consult their doctors regarding ED, the ED is the first clue that they have cardiovascular disease.

4.  The Massachusetts Male Aging Study suggests that there may be a natural ebb and flow of ED.  For some men, ED may occur, last for a considerable amount of time and then partly or fully disappear without any treatment.

Source:  Harvard Medical School Healthbeat, August 3, 2013




Researchers at UCLA studied 112 adults, age 60 and over, with major depression.  For the first 4 weeks, participants were treated with escitalopram, a standard antidepressant drug.  Showing only partial improvement, 73 of the adults were randomly assigned to 10 weeks of either a tai chi class for two hours per week or to a health-education class.

All participants were evaluated for levels of depression, anxiety, resilience, health-related quality of life, cognition and immune system inflammation at the beginning of the study and again four months later.

Among tai chi participants, 94% scored below 10 on a depression rating scale, 10 being the cut-off for a diagnosis of depression.  65% achieved a score of 6 or less, meaning their depression was in remission.

By comparison, 77% of the control group achieved 10 or less, with 51% in remission.

Researchers believe that the control group may have benefited less because of the social aspects of spending time with others in the tai chi class.

Lead investigator Helen Lavretsky, MD, had this to say about the results of the study:  “Depression can lead to serious consequences, including greater morbidity, disability, mortality and increased cost of care.

“This study shows that adding a mind-body exercise like tai chi that is widely available in the community can improve the outcomes of treating depression in older adults. . . .  With tai chi, we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing them to additional medications.”

University Health & Nutrition Letter, May 6, 2013    NY Times, March 18, 2011   Study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, March 2011



Katherine Bouton, a journalist, experienced hearing loss as a young woman but downplayed the continued deterioration of her hearing for 20 years.

Speaking of those 20 years, Bouton said, “My most intense frustrations were when I was still trying to hide the fact that I had hearing loss.  I would literally be twisting myself into knots to best position myself to hear what someone was saying, and then I’d miss it anyway.  I might ask them to repeat it once, but if I still didn’t get it, I’d let it go.

“I avoided any kind of debate or discussion about things of importance because I simply couldn’t follow them.  I was so stressed by not being able to hear and by fear of making a fool of myself that I had a permanent band of tension across my back and a constant stomach ache.”

Regarding the little to no coverage for the cost of hearing aids offered by private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare, Bouton had this to say:  “Only one in seven people in this country who could benefit from hearing aids uses them.  This is partly because of cost.

“This is a huge public health issue because untreated hearing loss causes a raft of public health problems:  unemployment, mental issues like depression and early onset dementia.  It’s really almost breathtakingly shortsighted that we fail to cover this basic coverage.”

We know that unprotected exposure to a jet engine or to the blast of an IED are instant causes of deafness.

Closer to home, noise from subway trains is between 90-95 decibels (dB), from a power mower 107 dB, a rock concert from 115 to 125 dB, and the South African vuvuzuelas that blared at the Word Cup measured 127 dB.

The Sight and Hearing Association at the University of Minnesota annually rates the safety of children’s toys.  In 2010, researchers found two toys for toddlers that measured 129 dB and 120 dB.

Still, it’s not short intense blasts responsible for hearing loss in tens of millions of Americans.  The losses are more likely caused by frequent or continual exposure to moderate levels of noises we encounter daily:  Music, car alarms, even hair dryers are sources of damage to hearing that can happen much earlier than we’d imagine.

Bouton says hearing loss from portable music players isn’t caused by the decibels emitted, but from the length of the time they’re used.  “I do know that (the newer) iPods and MP3 players generally have noise caps.  The problem now  . . . is that they are worn for many hours a day.  So it’s a sustained exposure over a long period of time, rather than an intense short exposure.”

How to protect ourselves in our everyday environments?  Bouton recommends not being shy about wearing earplugs.

Source:   Smart Planet Daily, April 5, 2013        


SA109009Human thyroid gland overlying trachea

The risk of hyperthyroidism increases as we age, and it’s especially tricky to diagnose in older persons.

The symptoms of an overactive thyroid are so diverse, affecting your mood, energy, body temperature, heart and weight that it’s difficult to get the correct diagnosis the first time around.

Compared to younger hyperthyroid patients, older patients are less likely to show the typical signs of increased sweating, heat tolerance, hand tremors, nervousness, excessive thirst and increased appetite.

For older persons, the following symptoms may be present:

1.  Depression  An older person is more likely than a younger person to develop depression.

2.  Heart Failure  Because hyperthyroidism places such a heavy burden on the heart, the heart can’t effectively pump blood through the body.   Shortness of breath, swelling in the ankles and weakness and fatigue are among the signs of heart failure.

3.  Atrial fibrillation  In a recent study, 35% of older people with hyperthyroidism experienced the disorganized heart rhythms of atrial fibrillation.

4.  Excessive weight loss  Older hyperthyroid patients tend to lose more weight than do younger patients and may even appear malnourished.  Muscle weakness may be a side effect of severe weight loss.

Source:  Harvard Medical School Healthbeat, January 19, 2013



In 1999 the American Heart Association (AHA) published a set of guidelines for heart disease prevention in women and revised them in 2011.  What follows are the newer guidelines are based on clinical trials that examined the protective efficacy of lifestyle measures and drugs:

1.  Control your weight.  If your weight is gradually creeping up, cut calories and develop good exercise habits.  Losing and then sustaining weight loss may require more than the recommended 30 minutes of exercise most days.

2.  Consider low-dose aspirin.  In persons under 65, aspirin is more effective at reducing heart attacks in men and more effective at reducing strokes in women.  Women over 65 with other coronary risk factors, should consider low-dose aspirin therapy only if you have or are at high risk for cardiovascular disease—and only if you’ve consulted with your health care providers for potential side effects.

3.  Consider statin drugs if lifestyle changed don’t improve your cholesterol numbers enough.

4.  If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, one drink per day.  Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer and other cancers, so consider those risks along with the benefits of alcohol.  The National Cancer Institute considers any amount of alcohol too much for women.

5.  Ignore previous advice to take hormones to prevent heart attacks.  In 2002 the Women’s Health Initiative found that such hormone therapy actually increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer in older women, average age 63.

6.  Treat depression and reduce stress.  It’s not normal to feel unhappy most of the time.  Seek professional help.   Getting regular exercise is also helpful.

If a demanding job or life causes stress, you must find ways to reduce the stress.

7.  Know your family history.  A history of premature cardiovascular disease in your immediate family substantially raises your risks.  Though you can’t change family history, you can address your other risk factors and treat them aggressively.

You may want to assess your 10-year risk of having a heart attack based on your age, gender, cholesterol levels and blood pressure at the government’s National Cholesterol Education Program at  http://www.tinyurl.com/risktool

SOURCE:  University of CA, Berkeley Wellness Letter, Special Winter Issue, 2012    American Heart Association



GOV0077Looking for holiday cheer in all the wrong places

SAD is a form of depression triggered by decreased exposure to daylight.  It arrives during fall or winter and subsides in the spring, affecting 1%  to 2% of the population.  It strikes all ages and genders but is more prevalent among women and younger persons.

Like general depression, its symptoms include lethargy, loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities, interpersonal problems, irritability, inability to concentrate, and changes in sleeping patterns, appetite, or both.

Leading theories for the cause of SAD are an out-of-sync clock or improper levels of either the hormone melatonin or the neurotransmitter serotonin.

The favored treatment is phototherapy (light therapy), which involves daily sessions of sitting near a special light source far more intense than normal indoor light. The light must enter the eye; skin exposure isn’t effective.

Generally, the recommendation is to get 30 minutes exposure daily to light at an intensity of 10,000 lux, but optimum frequency of dosing depends on the individual—some people need only a few treatments to feel better, while others need several weeks.

You don’t need a prescription to buy a light box, but it’s best to work with a professional to monitor and adjust treatment.

My Take on the subject:  I was taken aback by the stats of 1% to 2% of the population being afflicted with SAD because I had been also taken aback by the number of my acquaintances who’ve told me they’re affected by SAD—it’s a much higher percentage than what Harvard gives.  Perhaps people are mistakenly self-diagnosing SAD for other forms of depression that need different palliative treatment.

Source:  Harvard Medical School Healthbeat,  December 6, 2012



As with living with an addict, those who are closest to a loved one experiencing a form of depression often suffer at least as much as the depressed, suicidal or manic person.

Here are some coping mechanisms:

Encourage him or her to get treatment and stay with it.  If necessary, remind the person of appointments and about taking medications on schedule.  If you suspect your loved one is suicidal, immediately call his or her therapist or doctor.  If neither is available, call a local crisis center or emergency room.

Take care of yourself.  You may want to seek individual therapy or join a support group.  Mental health organizations sponsor support groups where you can find information about the illness and the latest treatments.

Offer emotional support in the form of patience and love and hope.  Ask questions and carefully listen to the answers.  Don’t brush off or judge the other person’s feelings.  Suggest activities you can share.  Remember that healing takes time and that it’s a disease that’s making your loved one difficult.  Don’t blame him or her, any more than you would if it were physical pain making the person behave differently.

Try to prevent reckless acts during manic episodes, when judgment is impaired.  Limit access to cars, credit cards and bank accounts.  Learn to recognize situations that may trigger a manic episode.

Disruption of sleep patterns can trigger an episode, so support your loved one in keeping a regular sleep schedule.  Similarly, regular schedules for eating, exercising and socializing may also be a preventive measure.

from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Press Release   March 13, 2012