Unipolar late-onset depression: A comprehensive review

Ann Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2003 Dec 16;2(1):11. doi: 10.1186/1475-2832-2-11.


BACKGROUND: The older population increases all over the world and so also does the number of older psychiatric patients, which manifest certain specific and unique characteristics. The aim of this article is to provide a comprehensive review of the international literature on unipolar depression with onset at old age. METHODS: The authors reviewed several pages and books relevent to the subject but did not search the entire literature because of it's overwhelming size. They chose to review those considered most significant. RESULTS: The prevalence of major depression is estimated to be 2% in the general population over 65 years of age. The clinical picture of geriatric depression differs in many aspects from depression in younger patients. It is not yet clear whether it also varies across cultures and different socio-economic backgrounds. Biological data suggest that it is associated with an increased severity of subcortical vascular disease and greater impairment of cognitive performance. Many authors consider the existence of a somatic disorder to be related to the presence of depression in late life, even constituting a negative prognostic factor for the outcome of depression. Most studies support the opinion that geriatric depression carries a poorer prognosis than depression in younger patients. The therapeutic intervention includes pharmacotherapy, mainly with antidepressants, which is of established value and psychotherapy which is not equally validated. CONCLUSION: A significant number of questions regarding the assessment and treatment of geriatric depression remain unanswered, empirical data are limited, and further research is necessary.