Home | Blogs | Changing prevalence and treatment of depression in people aged over 65

Changing prevalence and treatment of depression in people aged over 65

idea.nottingham.ac.uk image: Dementia Day to Day blogs banner


A recently published paper (Arthur A., et al, British Journal of Psychiatry Oct 7:1-6. doi: 10.1192/bjp.2019.193. [Epub ahead of print]) reports findings from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (CFAS), which is a population-based study of over 15,000 people aged 65 plus. The study has two parts, CFAS I and CFASII, which were conducted 20 years apart on different groups of people. The study is led and co-ordinated from the University of Cambridge, and Nottingham University has been one of its centres for both stages. The current local investigator for Nottingham is Prof Tom Dening of the Division of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology. CFAS has been influential in providing high quality estimates of disorders such as dementia and depression, and these data have often been used for national and international policy purposes.

CFASII was conducted using the same methods as CFASI, which enables comparisons to made about changes in the frequency of disorders and also the treatments being used across a 20-year period. Recent CFAS papers have reported a decrease in the prevalence and incidence of dementia during this period, most probably due to improved general health in the more recent population.

Our paper looked at depression, to see if there were any changes either in its frequency (prevalence) or in the use of antidepressants to treat it. The main finding was that there was not a sizeable change in the numbers of people with depression even though over twice as many people were being prescribed antidepressants. This is an important result, although it raises more questions than it answers. For example, it might mean that depression would be even more common in the current cohort if there were fewer people taking antidepressants. However, it might also mean that people are being prescribed antidepressants and are not really benefitting from them. This causes concern as we have also recently, in a separate study, published research showing that drugs with anticholinergic properties (which include many antidepressants) are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, so it is important that prescribing should be done carefully. Perhaps the message is that we should look more carefully at responses to depression other than medication such as psychological treatments and improving social resources for older people.

Your comments

You'd be very welcome to leave a comment on this blog post. 

Your comment won't appear straight away as we'll need to check it first: thank you for your patience.

When leaving comments please bear in mind our posting rules.

Add new comment

This is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

See more like this

Emma Putland

Dementia is certainly a growing social concern, and is increasingly discussed and portrayed in newspapers, government speeches, policy documents, films, books and more.

Tom Dening

Hearing loss is common as we get older. Age is the main risk factor for dementia. The two conditions may occur together, but can deafness cause dementia?

Tom Dening

There seems little doubt that dementia sells newspapers these days. Barely a week goes past without a new sensation – Miracle Cure! ….Eat This, Eat That!... XXX gives you Alzheimers’!! What is an ordinary person supposed to make of this barrage? How good is the science?