Lesser Conditions a Stepping Stone to Major Depression

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Major Depression and Elderly

An often undiagnosed source of suffering for elderly

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Elderly patients with lesser versions of depression, a group many times larger than those with major depression, are more than five times as likely as healthy patients to descend into major depression within one year, according to a study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study's authors believe that perhaps millions of elderly patients who do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of major depression are indeed depressed, suffering and not being treated for it.

Researchers are focusing on depression in elderly patients because the number of persons aged 65 years or older (about 36 million) is expected to double in the next 25 years, with a third of them expected to struggle with a mental disorder at some point. While major depression among the elderly is an important problem, it has overshadowed related disorders that are less serious, but that leave many more people with suffering from painful emotions, disinterest in their surroundings, and thoughts of worthlessness. As a result, this group is more functionally disabled, less able to feed and groom themselves, or to go shopping.

The current study is the first to carefully reexamine the definitions of certain depression types in older patients seen in primary care settings, and to compare outcomes in different types of depression. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders 4th Edition (DSM-IV), minor depression is officially defined using the exact same symptoms as major depression, but including fewer of them. To be precise, persons suffering from minor depression experience 2 to 4 symptoms of depression for most of the day nearly every day, while those with major depression experience five or more symptoms. Patients with the same symptoms, but experiencing them less frequently

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