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Am J Psychiatry. 1992 Mar;149(3):341-5.

Mania compared with unipolar depression in old age.

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  • 1McLean Hospital, Belmont, Mass.



The goal of this study was to clarify the meaning and importance of mania in old age.


The authors conducted a retrospective study of 50 elderly patients consecutively admitted to a private mental hospital with an index episode of mania. As a comparison group, they used 50 age- and sex-matched patients with unipolar depression. They reviewed the charts of the 100 patients for family history, clinical course, and neurological disorders. Outcome was determined by contacting patients, families, physicians, institutional settings, and vital statistics records. Survival analysis compared mortality rates.


The manic patients had a greater familial predisposition to affective disorder and were younger at first psychiatric hospitalization. For the 20 manic patients whose first affective episode was depression, an average of 15 years elapsed before mania became manifest. Eighteen of the manic patients, compared with only four of the depressed patients, had neurological disorders. The manic patients had a significantly higher mortality rate than the depressed patients; by the end of the follow-up, 25 of the manic patients, compared with 10 of the depressed patients, had died.


Mania appears to have a poorer prognosis and to be a more severe form of affective illness than unipolar depression. The 18 manic patients with neurological disorders seemed to have "secondary mania." Subtle cerebral changes due to aging may have been responsible for the conversion to mania in the 20 patients who experienced a long latency from first depression to onset of mania. The low frequency of early-onset mania in this study group highlights the need to differentiate early- from late-onset mania.

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