Researchers say major depression affects only about 1%-2% of the elderly population, but up to 20% may suffer from significant symptoms of depression that require treatment.
Although previous studies have shown that elderly women suffer disproportionately more from depression, researchers say the reasons for these gender differences are not clear.
Depression's Toll on Women
In this study, researchers looked at gender differences in depression among older adults for six years to see if they could find any clues.
They followed 754 men and women over age 70, starting in 1998 and every 18 months thereafter. At each follow-up appointment, the participants were asked to report any medical conditions and were screened for symptoms of depression, such as loss of appetite, sadness, or sleep problems during the previous week.
Overall, 36% of the participants were depressed at some point during the study. Of those, nearly half remained depressed over two consecutive follow-up appointments, and nearly 5% were depressed at all five checkups.
The results showed more women were depressed than men at each interval, and women were more likely than men to suffer from depression at different time points. However, older women were less likely than men to die while depressed.
After adjusting for other risk factors for depression, the study also showed that older women were more likely to become depressed and less likely to recover from depression. Researchers say that finding was surprising because women were more likely than men to receive medications or other treatment for depression.
"Whether women are treated less aggressively than men for late-life depression or are less likely to respond to conventional treatment is not known but should be the focus of future research," says Lisa C. Barry, PhD, MPH, of Yale University School of Medicine, and colleagues in the Archives of General Psychology.
By Jennifer Warner
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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