Bittersweet milestones: Depression in adults 100 years old and over is poorly understood

Nov 24, 2008

For many of the elderly, the golden years are anything but. Faced with health problems, financial issues and the death of a spouse or loved one, many adults 65 years and older suffer from depression. While research is emerging to help this group understand and treat the problem, another group - centenarians - has been left largely in the dark.

"Centenarians are still rare, and depression hasn't been studied thoroughly in this group," said Adam Davey, a developmental psychologist in the College of Health Professions at Temple University. "We've found that it's a very under diagnosed condition among people over 100 years old, yet it's one of the most easily treated forms of mental illness."

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, more than 60,000 people in the U.S. are 100 years old or over, and as baby boomers start to hit their 100-year mark, that number is expected to more than quadruple to 274,000. As a result of this new boom, a group of researchers have been studying this group more and more to learn about successful late-life aging.

In a study presented at the Gerontological Society of America's annual meeting on Nov. 24, lead author Davey and colleagues from institutions across the country looked at indicators of depression among respondents enrolled in the Georgia Centenarian Study, a three-phased project to study quality of life for those over age 100.

Based on responses given in the survey by a sample of 244 centenarians, researchers found that more than 25 percent showed clinically relevant levels of depressive symptoms, yet only 8 percent reported having a current diagnosis of depression.

Davey notes that further study will need to pinpoint the reason for these high levels, but his research suggests a number of factors, including poor nutritional status, urinary incontinence, limited physical activity and past history of anxiety.

"People who suffer from depression tend to have a high risk of mortality, so it's puzzling to see higher numbers among the oldest old," he said.

In an earlier phase of the Georgia Centenarian Study, researchers found that centenarians living in a community setting were found to have higher levels of depression than their younger counterparts. Davey noted that since caregivers play a large role in the lives of many centenarians, it is important for doctors, nurses and even family members to focus on the larger picture to ensure a better quality of life.

"Caregivers often focus on the physical part of health," he said. "Or, when they look at they mental health of older adults, they focus more on dementia. But depression is important to consider too – it's not just something that younger people suffer from."

Source: Temple University

Explore further: Nipah outbreak in South Asia offers lessons for controlling Ebola in West Africa

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Wear and tear of stress: the psychoneurobiology of aging

Aug 11, 2006

Age may be more related to reactions to stress and the absence of disease rather than to a person's chronological age, say leading researchers in the fields of neurobiology and psychoneuroendocrinology. And healthy aging ...

Recommended for you

A multiscale approach to Ebola response

29 minutes ago

The Ebola outbreak in western Africa continues to spread uncontrolled, affecting thus far five countries. On September 16th, President Obama spoke at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters ...

Overwhelmed west Africa ramps up Ebola response

14 hours ago

West Africa intensified its response to the deadly Ebola epidemic on Sunday, with Sierra Leone uncovering scores of dead bodies during a 72-hour shutdown and Liberia announcing hundreds of new hospital beds.

Sierra Leone reaches final day of Ebola lockdown

18 hours ago

Frustrated residents complained of food shortages in some neighborhoods of Sierra Leone's capital on Sunday as the country reached the third and final day of a sweeping, unprecedented lockdown designed to ...

Sierra Leone faces criticism over Ebola shutdown

Sep 20, 2014

Sierra Leone began the second day of a 72-hour nationwide shutdown aimed at containing the spread of the deadly Ebola virus on Saturday amid criticism that the action was a poorly planned publicity stunt.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DGBEACH
not rated yet Nov 24, 2008
Couldn't it also have to do with them out-living their family and friends??? I'd be pretty damned depressed myself in that situation.
zevkirsh
not rated yet Nov 24, 2008
i think the more appropriate tagline is , 'life in adults not dead before 100 years of age is poorly understood"