Study: Older women more likely
to suffer depression than older men
Older women are more prone to depression and are more likely to remain depressed
than older men, according to a new study by Yale School of Medicine researchers
in the February Archives of General Psychiatry.
The Yale team also found that women were less likely to die while depressed than
older men, indicating that women live longer with depression than men. This factor,
along with the higher likelihood of women becoming depressed and remaining depressed,
collectively contributes to the higher burden of depression among older women,
say the researchers.
Major depression affects about 1% to 2% of older adults living in the community, say the authors, but as many as 20%
experience symptoms of depression. It is unclear why symptoms of depression affect
older women more than older men.
The lead author of the study, Lisa C. Barry, associate research scientist in
the Yale School of Public Health, and her colleagues evaluated a group of 754
individuals age 70 and older from 1998 to 2005. Participants were asked to provide
demographic information, take cognitive tests and report any medical conditions
at the start of the study and at follow-up assessments conducted every 18 months.
Barry and her team screened participants for depression symptoms — such
as lack of appetite, feeling sad or sleep problems — exhibited during the
During the study, 35.7% of the participants were depressed at some point. Of
those, 17.8% remained depressed during two consecutive time points, 11.2% at
three time points, 6.3% at four points and 4.5% at all five time points. More
men than women were depressed at each 18-month follow-up, and women were more
likely than men to experience depression at subsequent time points. Women had
a higher likelihood of transitioning from a non-depressed state to a depressed
one, and a lower likelihood of transitioning from depressed to non-depressed
states or to die.
The team found that nearly 40% of the depressed participants were depressed during at least two consecutive time points.
“This highlights the need to initiate and potentially maintain antidepressant
treatment after resolution of the initial depressive episode,” says Barry,
who is a Brookdale Leadership in Aging Fellow.
“Our findings provide strong evidence that depression is more persistent
in older women than older men,” she adds. “We were surprised by this
finding because women are more likely to receive medications or other treatment
for depression. Further studies are needed to determine whether women are treated
less aggressively than men for late-life depression, or if women are less likely
to respond to conventional treatment.”
Other authors on the study included Heather G. Allore, Zhenchao Guo, Martha L.
Bruce and Dr. Thomas M. Gill.
The study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging. It was
conducted at the Yale Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center.
— By Karen Peart
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