Antidepressant Use Soars Among Seniors but With Little Efficacy, Study Demonstrates

The number of older people taking antidepressants have doubled—and more—in the twenty years before 2010, even though we have not seen an associated rise in depression cases, according to a new study.  

The lead author of a new study, Professor Antony Arthur explains the value of this shift: “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.”

Essentially, the early 1990s saw fewer than one in twenty people—that is about 5 percent—over the age of 65 taking antidepressants.  This number, however, made a shocking rise to one in ten—about 10 percent—between 2008 and 2011.  Over that same period, depression rates for the same age group actually fell from 7.9 percent to 6.8 percent.  

Arthur is also a University of East Anglia School of Health Sciences. He goes on to say, “Until now, little was known about how the relationship between the prevalence of depression and antidepressant use among older people has changed over time. The Cognitive Function and Aging Studies led by the University of Cambridge have the ability to exam changes in the health needs of older people across generations based on random sampling and diagnostic methods held constant over time.”

For the study, the researchers asked more than 15,000 people over the age of 65 about their health, their daily activities, and their use of health and social care services—including medications—to get a better assessment of any relationship between health, age, and depression. Professor Arthur describes how the standardized interview process helped to ascertain either the presence or absence of depression symptoms. With this data, they applied diagnostic criteria to determine whether the participant was considered to have ‘case level’ depression. This is a measurement of depression that is more severe than what is typically characterized by minor mood symptoms.

Distilling this data down, the study found that more than 10 percent of people over the age of 65 have been prescribed antidepressants between 2008 and 2011. This is more than double the 4.2 percent of prescriptions filled during the early 1990s. Essentially, investigators conclude that higher prescription rates have not helped to reduce depression among this population.  As such, more should be done to understand treatment and prevention options.