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Depressive symptoms may be more common in older adults

A study from the U.K.'s University of Bradford is challenging notions that the silver years are truly the happiest - at least for some people. A group of researchers led by a lecturer in psychology has uncovered evidence that symptoms of depression are more common in adults over 65 than in younger people.

Are seniors more depressed?
The Bradford study examined records from 2,000 Australians over a 15-year period. Those who participated frequently reported increased feelings of sadness and greater depressive symptoms as they got older. It was also reported that women tended to display more depressive symptoms earlier on than men did. However, men reported a faster development of symptoms, especially toward older ages. The authors reported that around age 80, the roles had more or less reversed, with men displaying more symptoms on average.

While there have been other studies exploring the relationship between depression and age, such examinations typically stopped once adults began reaching extreme old age, around 80 or 85. The Bradford study is unique in that it's the first to further determine how depression and age relate in even later years.

"These findings are very significant and have implications for how we deal with old age. It's the first study to tell us depressive symptoms continue to increase throughout old age. We are in a period of unprecedented success in terms of people living longer than ever and in greater numbers and we should be celebrating this but it seems that we are finding it hard to cope," said Helena Chui, Ph.D., psychology lecturer at the University of Bradford and lead study author.

Understanding the factors
The progression of depressive symptoms in older age may be expedited and encouraged by a variety of physical, cognitive and lifestyle factors that affect seniors later in life. In addition to general fear of mortality, the study authors also noted that changes in physical condition and level of impairment, as well as the development of chronic medical conditions, can all be contributing factors.

Important to note is that while depressive symptoms may be more common among older adults, the condition itself is not a normal part of aging. According to the National Institute on Aging, depression may actually be more widespread among seniors than we realize. The numbers may just seem lower because many older adults with depression are reluctant to bring the issue to a doctor, family member or caregiver.

Know the signs
Because seniors can be reluctant to discuss depression, it's important for caregivers to be aware of common risk factors and to know how to spot some of the ailment's symptoms. If an older adult has recently undergone a significant life change, such as a move to assisted living or the loss of a family member or friend, he or she may be at higher risk for depressive symptoms.

While diagnosis of both major depressive disorder and dysthymia, a similar condition characterized by less acute but longer-lasting symptoms, can only be performed by a licensed professional, there are symptoms that could signify the presence of these conditions. Aside from dips in mood and similar emotional tell-tales, major changes to sleep patterns, sudden irritability and appetite disruption can all be common signs of depression.