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Posted: February 12, 2008

Who's More Likely to be Depressed -- Older Men or Older Women?

Older women are more prone to depression and are more likely to remain depressed than older men – but men are more likely to die while depressed, according to researchers at the Yale School of Medicine.
 
The Yale team 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 contribute to the higher burden of depression among older women, according to the findings published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
 
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While major depression affects only about 1% to 2% of older adults living in community settings, as many as 20% experience symptoms of some degree of depression, according to the authors. It is unclear why symptoms of depression affect older women more than older men, they said.
 
The lead author of the study, Lisa C. Barry, an associate research scientist in the Yale School of Public Health, and colleagues evaluated a group of 754 seniors age 70 and older from 1998 to 2005. The seniors 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 – that occurred during the previous week. 
 
During the study, 35.7% of the participants were found to be depressed at some point. Of those, 17.8% remained depressed during two consecutive check points, 11.2% at three check points, 6.3% at four points, and 4.5% at all five follow-up check 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 check points.
 
In addition, women had a higher likelihood of slipping into depression, and a lower likelihood of working out of depression – or dying during the period.
 
The team found that nearly 40% of the depressed seniors were depressed during at least two consecutive check points. “This highlights the need to initiate and potentially maintain antidepressant treatment after resolution of the initial depressive episode,” said Barry.
 
“Our findings provide strong evidence that depression is more persistent in older women than older men,” said Barry. “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.”
 
The study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging.

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