According to a recent report in the Archives of General Psychiatry, older women are more likely to become depressed and to remain depressed than older men, but less likely to die while depressed.

Lisa C. Barry of the Yale University School of Medicine and colleagues performed the study in light of the fact that the prevalence of depression is disproportionately higher in older women than men, and the reason is unknown. They note that one to two percent of older adults living in the community experience major depression and as many as two out of every ten experience symptoms of depression. It is uncertain as to why older women are more likely than older men to experience these symptoms.

The researchers used a sample of about 750 individuals age 70 and older (averaging 78.4 years) in 1998. Participants provided demographic information, took cognitive tests, and reported any medical conditions at the beginning of the study and every 18 months over a period of 72 months. There was a preliminary screening for symptoms of depression during the previous week such as lack of appetite, feeling sad, or problems related to sleep.

The analysis revealed that after controlling for demographic traits, “women had a higher likelihood of transitioning from non-depressed to depressed and a lower likelihood of transitioning from depressed to non-depressed or death.” About 35.7% of the participants were depressed at some point, and 17.8% remained depressed during two consecutive follow-up periods, 11.2% during three consecutive follow-up periods, 6.3% during four, and 4.5% during all five follow-up evaluations. The researchers found that more women than men were depressed at each 18-month evaluation, and women were more likely than men to experience depression at later follow-ups.

The authors maintain that their findings provide strong evidence that depression is more persistent in older women than older men due to the observed consistency over the four time intervals. However, women are more likely to receive medications or other treatment for depression, and so the results are somewhat surprising. Barry and colleagues state that future research should focus on whether or not women are less likely to respond to conventional treatment or they receive different treatment than men for late-life depression. They conclude by noting that “nearly 40 percent of the depressed participants in this study were depressed during at least two consecutive time points, highlighting the need to initiate and potentially maintain antidepressant treatment after resolution of the initial depressive episode.”

Higher Burden of Depression Among Older Women: The Effect of Onset, Persistence, and Mortality Over Time
Lisa C. Barry, Heather G. Allore, Zhenchao Guo, Martha L. Bruce, Thomas M. Gill
Archives of General Psychiatry
, Volume 65, No. 2, pp172-178, February 2008
Click Here to See Abstract Online

Written by: Peter M Crosta