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Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2001;251 Suppl 2:II57-61.

Late life depression.

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  • 1Institute of Clinical Neuroscience Sahlgrenska, University Hospital Mölndal, Sweden.


Depression has an overall prevalence of 5-8%. The prevalence of late life depression is estimated among people 65 years of age to be 15%. There is a great under-diagnosis and under-treatment of late life depression with the most serious consequence being premature death. Depression is also an important and independent risk factor for mortality following myocardial infarction, while patients with stroke associated with depression also have a higher death rate. The suicide rate is increased in elderly especially elderly men with depression. The aetiology of depression is more heterogeneous than depression in younger adults. Obviously age-related changes in the brain increase the risk for depression. Patients with neurodegenerative disorders also run a higher risk for being depressed. In Alzheimer's disease the frequency is around 50%. Deficiency of essential nutrients like folic acid and vitamin B12 is an obvious risk factor for both disorders with cognitive impairment and depression. Treatment of depression in the elderly follows the same lines as treatment of depression in younger patients. Many different drugs may be prescribed; however, the risk of adverse events is greater in the elderly. The drugs of choice are the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which have a response rate of around 65%. Of interest is that emotional disturbances like irritability, aggressiveness and anxiety also respond to treatment with SSRIs. A comprehensive treatment of late life depression, which includes social and psychological support, has a response rate of 80-90%.

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