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Am Fam Physician. 1998;57(9):2238-2240

The prevalence of major depression in elderly people has been estimated to range from less than 3 percent to more than 12 percent of the population. Recent studies have suggested that there is an increased risk for depression in elderly patients. Roberts and associates investigated the effects of age on the prevalence of depression in patients 50 years of age and older to determine if aging is an independent risk factor for depression.

A total of 2,219 patients (mean age: 64.7 years) were included in the two-year study. Depression was measured using 12 diagnostic symptom criteria for a major depressive episode as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R and DSM-IV). Basic information concerning both physical and emotional well-being was also collected for each patient. After adjusting for all other variables (i.e., sex, education, marital status, functional impairment, social support, etc.) the results demonstrated no increased incidence of depression with age in the two years studied.

The authors conclude that other age-related events increase the risk of depression in elderly patients, in particular chronic physical health problems and related disabilities. Healthy, normally functioning older adults, however, are at no greater risk for depression than younger adults and even adolescents. The authors stress that intervention strategies aimed at maintaining health and preventing impairment and disability may reduce the prevalence and impact of depression in older adults.

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Copyright © 1998 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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