Purpose: To explore the association of major depressive symptoms with advancing age, sex, and self-rated health among older adults.
Design and methods: We analyzed 10 years of annual assessments in a longitudinal cohort of 5888 Medicare recipients in the Cardiovascular Health Study. Self-rated health was assessed with a single question, and subjects categorized as healthy or sick. Major depressive symptoms were assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Short Depression Scale, with subjects categorized as nondepressed (score < 10) or depressed (> or =10). Age-, sex-, and health-specific prevalence of depression and the probabilities of transition between depressed and nondepressed states were estimated.
Results: The prevalence of a major depressive state was higher in women, and increased with advancing age. The probability of becoming depressed increased with advancing age among the healthy but not the sick. Women showed a greater probability than men of becoming depressed, regardless of health status. Major depressive symptoms persisted over one-year intervals in about 60% of the healthy and 75% of the sick, with little difference between men and women.
Implications: Clinically significant depressive symptoms occur commonly in older adults, especially women, increase with advancing age, are associated with poor self-rated health, and are largely intransigent. In order to limit the deleterious consequences of depression among older adults, increased attention to prevention, screening, and treatment is warranted. A self-rated health item could be used in clinical settings to refine the prognosis of late-life depression.