Depression Declining Among Older Americans
July 11, 2013

Depression On The Decline Among Older Americans

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The number of older Americans suffering from depression may be on the decline for the first time in decades, says a new study from University of Michigan Health System. Examining data spanning the decade between 1998 and 2008, researchers found that the overall number of over-50 adults being treated for severe depression dropped significantly.

"Over that decade, we saw a significant decrease in depression among older adults, and we need further studies to explore whether this is the result of improved treatment," says lead author Kara Zivin, assistant professor of psychiatry at the UM Medical School and a researcher investigator with the VA Center for Clinical Management Research.

"Even with signs of progress, however, a significant percent of our population is still experiencing severe symptoms of depression, and we need to do more to ensure all of these groups have proper access to treatment."

An individual's later years are often accompanied by a variety of far-reaching life changes, including retirement, deteriorating health and the loss of friends, spouses and siblings. The combination of these factors has long been fingered as the source for the spike in the rate of depression observed among America's aging population.

However, the recent study found that symptoms associated with depression were on the decline for most of the last decade, particularly in the 80-84 age group. One exception was among 55-59 year-olds, who experienced a modest rise in depression rates in the period under study. This anomaly has somewhat perplexed the researchers, since this is an age group that has not previously been considered at high-risk for depression.

"It's unclear whether this shift is an indication of a sicker population not being treated adequately, a burden on people of that age at that particular time or something else, which is why we need to do more research to better understand these patterns," says Zivin.

Zivin's team culled data from the Health and Retirement Study, which amassed information from a nationally-representative sample of older Americans. The project was conducted by UM’s Institute for Social Research in conjunction with the National Institute of Aging.

"We were pleased to see that there appears to be an overall improvement in depressive symptoms in the US, which is most likely related to better recognition and treatment. We are hopeful that our findings highlight the importance of depression diagnosis and treatment, and that we continue to make progress in developing better ways to systematically improve the outcomes of patients with depression," says senior author Sandeep Vijan, M.D., M.S., associate professor of internal medicine at the UM Medical School and a research scientist at the Ann Arbor VA Health System.

A report of the team's study appears in the current edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.