Is depression in old age fatal only when people feel lonely?

Am J Psychiatry. 2005 Jan;162(1):178-80. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.162.1.178.


Objective: The impact of depression and perceived loneliness in the oldest old is largely unknown. The authors studied the relationship between the presence of depressive symptoms and all-cause mortality in old age, especially the potential distorting effect of perceived loneliness.

Method: Within a prospective population-based study of 85-year-olds, the 15-item Geriatric Depression Scale and the Loneliness Scale were annually applied in all 476 participants with a Mini-Mental State Examination score of 18 points or more.

Results: Depression was present in 23% and associated with marital state, institutionalization, and perceived loneliness. When depression and perceived loneliness were assessed during follow-up, neither depression nor perceived loneliness had a significant effect on mortality. However, those who suffered from both depression and feelings of loneliness had a 2.1 times higher mortality risk.

Conclusions: The data suggest that the increased mortality risk attributable to depression in the presence of perceived loneliness may result from motivational depletion.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cause of Death
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / mortality*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires