Risk factors for anxiety and depression in the elderly: a review

J Affect Disord. 2008 Feb;106(1-2):29-44. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2007.06.005. Epub 2007 Aug 17.


Background: Although a number of studies have examined risk factors for anxiety and depression at a later age, there have been no systematic comparisons of risk profiles across studies. Knowledge on such risk profiles may further our understanding of both the etiology and early recognition of these highly prevalent disorders. This paper gives a comprehensive overview and compares risk factors associated with anxiety and depression in the elderly.

Methods: The databases MEDLINE, PsycINFO and Sociological Abstracts were systematically searched, and relevant English-language articles from January 1995 to December 2005 were reviewed. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies on risk factors in elderly from a community or primary care setting were included. The associations between risk factors and pure anxiety or depressive symptoms or disorders were summarized and compared.

Results: The abstracted risk factors from studies on anxiety (N=17) and depression (N=71) were clustered into the categories biological, psychological and social. Although risk factors for anxiety and depression showed many similarities, some differences were found. Biological factors may be more important in predicting depression, and a differential effect of social factors on depression and anxiety was found.

Limitation: Due to a high heterogeneity between studies, no meta-analysis could be conducted.

Conclusions: There is considerable overlap between the risk profiles for anxiety and depression in the elderly, which suggests a dimensional approach on the interrelationship between anxiety and depression is more appropriate. To improve the recognition and preventive mental health programs, a clearer understanding of differentiating etiological factors will be needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Risk Factors