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UEA study shows doubling in antidepressant use in over-65s

UEA study shows doubling in antidepressant use in over-65s

Published by Grace Mcgachy
4:00pm 8th October 2019.

A new study, led by the the University of East Anglia, shows the numbers of pensioners taking antidepressants has doubled in 20 years. 

Despite this though, the number of older people diagnosed with depression has practically levelled. 

Researchers say depression affects one in 15 people aged over 65, with antidepressant use more common in women. 

depressed woman

The findings are based on the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies, conducted at two time points - between 1991 and 1993, and between 2008 and 2011. 

Researchers interviewed more than 15,000 over 65s in England and Wales to see whether the prevalence of depression and antidepressant use is changing.

Prof Antony Arthur, from UEA's School of Health Sciences, said: "Depression is a leading cause of poor quality of life worldwide and we know that older people may be less likely than other age groups to go to their GP with symptoms of depression. 

"Until now, little was known about how the relationship between the prevalence of depression and antidepressant use among older people has changed over time. 

"We asked participants about their health, daily activities, use of health and social care services, and the medications they were taking.

"We used a standardised interview process to ascertain the presence or absence of symptoms of depression and then applied diagnostic criteria to see whether the participant was considered to have 'case level' depression, a level of depression more severe than that characterised by minor mood symptoms, such as loss of energy, interest or enjoyment."

The report found that numbers of older people taking antidepressants went from  4.2 per cent in the early nineties to 10.7 per cent 20 years later. 

The estimated prevalence of depression among over 65s in the early 1990s was 7.9 per cent, compared to 6.8 per cent 20 years later.

Across both time periods, most people with case-level depression were not on antidepressants, while most of those on antidepressants did not have depression.

The research was led by the University of East Anglia in collaboration with the Universites of Cambridge, Newcastle and Nottingham.

'Changing prevalence and treatment of depression among the over-65s over two decades: findings from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies' is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.