Here’s some uplifting news from the mental-health front: Fewer Americans have the blues than in the late 1990s, with rates of depression in people over 50 on the decline, according to a new University of Michigan Health System study.
The findings, publishes in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, indicate rates of severe depression fell among the majority of older adults — especially those in their 80s, who have historically been a higher risk group for depression — between 1998 and 2008.
But not all the news was positive: Late middle agers — 55 to 59 years old — appeared to experience increased depression over the 10-year period studied.
"Over that decade, we saw a significant decrease in depression among older adults, and we need further studies to explore whether this is the result of improved treatment," said lead researcher Kara Zivin, assistant professor of psychiatry in the UM Medical School and a research investigator at the VA Center for Clinical Management Research.
"Even with signs of progress, however, a significant percent of our population is still experiencing severe symptoms of depression, and we need to do more to ensure all of these groups have proper access to treatment."
Past studies have historically shown late-life depression is common, in part because many Americans in this age group face the death of loved ones, isolation, medical problems, or changes in economic status. But the new findings suggest there have been improvements in this trend among older Americans, possibly due to better diagnosis and treatment, but a growing number of younger Americans, in their late 50s, are struggling with depression.
"It's unclear whether this shift is an indication of a sicker population not being treated adequately, a burden on people of that age at that particular time or something else, which is why we need to do more research to better understand these patterns," Zivin said.
For the study, researchers examined information from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally-representative sample of older Americans collected by the UM Institute for Social Research on behalf of the National Institute of Aging.
"We were pleased to see that there appears to be an overall improvement in depressive symptoms in the U.S., which is most likely related to better recognition and treatment. We are hopeful that our findings highlight the importance of depression diagnosis and treatment, and that we continue to make progress in developing better ways to systematically improve the outcomes of patients with depression," said researcher Sandeep Vijan, M.D., an associate professor of internal medicine at the UM Medical School.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute on Aging and the Department of Veteran Affairs.
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