Helplessness predicts the development of hypertension in older Mexican and European Americans

Stephen L. Stern, Rahul Dhanda, Helen P. Hazuda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Objective: The mechanisms by which depression is associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease remain unclear. It is possible that depressive symptoms could increase the risk of hypertension, which in turn could predispose to cardiovascular disease. The goal of this study was to explore whether individual depressive symptoms might predict the incidence of hypertension in a cohort of 240 initially normotensive Mexican-American and European-American elders. Methods: Subjects were 65-78 years old on entering the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging, an epidemiologic survey, at which time they completed the 30-item Geriatric Depression Scale in English or Spanish. Their blood pressure was reassessed a mean of 7.0 years later. Responses to six key scale items (depressed mood, decreased interest, worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, and fatigue) were evaluated for the ability to predict incident hypertension. Results: In univariate analyses, only helplessness significantly predicted incident hypertension (chi-square 13.5, df=1, P=.0003). In a Cox proportional hazards model adjusted for sex, education, number of comorbid diseases, current drinking, social well-being, and marital status, helplessness remained a very strong predictor [hazard ratio (HR) 4.99, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.90-13.12, P=.0011]. Total depression score also predicted incident hypertension, but less strongly (HR 1.08, CI 1.00-1.17, P=.0339). Conclusion: Helplessness may predict the development of hypertension in the elderly. Further research into this relationship might lead to interventions to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-337
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Psychosomatic Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • Depression
  • Elderly
  • Ethnicity
  • Helplessness
  • Hypertension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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