World Looking Golden in the Golden Years

Depression symptoms among seniors decreased over ten year period

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) The 1993 comedy "Grumpy Old Men" played on the stereotype that with old age comes unhappiness. These days, the reality may be much different. Seniors appear to be growing older more happily than in the past.

A recent study found that symptoms of depression among seniors has decreased from 1998 to 2008.

More seniors reported not having any symptoms of depression at all. Even the numbers of those with moderate depression symptoms appear to be decreasing.

It's not clear what the reasons are, but growing older is looking pretty good for many seniors.

"Tell a doctor about depression symptoms."

This study, led by Kara Zivin, PhD, of the Department of Veteran Affairs for the National Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource and Evaluation Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, looked at trends in depression over a ten-year period.

The researchers used data from six separate surveys, conducted between 1998 and 2008 as part of the Health and Retirement Study.

The 16,184 participants were aged 55 and older and had been asked about their symptoms of depression.

During that ten-year period, the percentage of respondents who said they had no depressive symptoms at all increased from 40.9 percent in 1998 to 47.4 percent in 2008.

Those over age 60 particularly saw a decrease in depression symptoms compared to those aged 55 to 59.

Even among those who did report symptoms of depression, the severity of those symptoms appeared to decrease slightly over that time period.

The percentage of people reporting elevated symptoms of depression (moderate) decreased from 15.5 percent to 14.2 percent.

The biggest decrease in this area was among those aged 80 to 84. Within this age group, 14.3 percent reported elevated symptoms of depression in 1998, but only 9.6 percent reported elevated symptoms in 2008.

The only increase in depression seen over this time period was among those aged 55 to 59. The percentage of those in this age group who experienced severe depression increased from 8.7 percent to 11.8 percent from 1998 to 2008.

The researchers noted that more study should be done to understand how depression symptoms may affect individuals as they grow older.

"The relationship between depression and retirement is complex; some older adults may become depressed then retire, others may retire then become depressed," the researchers wrote.

"Retirement may be liberating, leading to decreased symptoms," the researchers added. "Our finding that retired older adults are more depressed than those who are working is consistent with some, yet not all [prior research]."

This study was published in the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Services Research and Development. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 10, 2013
Last Updated:
July 29, 2013