Older women more likely to be depressed

It has long been known women are more susceptible to depression than men. Prevalence rates throughout life are about twice as high among the female population with approximately 20 percent of women experiencing depression versus 10 percent of men.

That's why on first glance the results of a new study (published in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry) are not surprising. Researchers at Yale School of Medicine conducted a study of elderly men and women and learned that even in old age women are substantially more likely to experience depression than men.

Scientists followed 754 men and women over the age of 70 and found women were more susceptible to depression in general as well as more likely to be persistently depressed than men.

At the beginning of the study period, about 17 percent of women were depressed versus only about five percent of men. A year and a half later almost 23 percent of women were depressed versus about seven percent of men. After another 18 months a quarter of women were depressed versus just over 10 percent of men.

Rates of depression were fairly high in this study, just over 35 percent of participants were depressed at some point during the study. Of those, almost 18 percent remained depressed for at least 18 months.

In themselves these numbers may not seem too groundbreaking, but they do teach us a couple of new things about the way depression works in men and women. For one thing, women in this study were more stable than the men.

While more were depressed and remained depressed throughout the study period, men were more likely to transition, moving from no depression to depression, and were also more likely to die during the study than the female subjects.

Another reason the findings surprised researchers is that women are generally more likely to receive treatment for depression than men. These scientists now want to conduct further research to determine whether women are treated less aggressively than men for late life depression or if women are less likely to respond to treatments.

Finally, if women are still about twice as likely as men to experience depression even in old age, what is the reason for that difference? Until recently, most believed female hormones were responsible for the gender difference in depression rates. It was thought that rates of depression for men and women were about the same before puberty and after menopause and the differences during the middle years were attributed to reproductive hormone influences in women.

Estrogen is known to affect depression as women are more likely to get depressed when they are pregnant, postpartum or experiencing the hormonal shift during menoapuse. It is interesting to note that rates remain consistently higher for women even after estrogen levels have dropped post-menopause.

More research is needed to further explore these differences and the reasons behind them, but effective treatment is available now for both men and women. Regardless of your gender or age, if you think you may be depressed, speak with your doctor about treatment options.

Okanagan Clinical Trials has ongoing studies examining investigative treatments for depression. Contact our office for more information or to schedule a free, no obligation medical assessment.


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