Context: Despite the frequent occurrence of depressive symptoms among older adults, especially women, little is known about the long-term course of late-life depressive symptoms.
Objective: To characterize the natural course of depressive symptoms among older women (from the young old to the oldest old) followed up for almost 20 years.
Design: Using latent-class growth-curve analysis, we analyzed women enrolled in an ongoing prospective cohort study (1988 through 2009).
Setting: Clinic sites in Baltimore, Maryland; Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Monongahela Valley near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Oregon.
Participants: We studied 7240 community-dwelling women 65 years or older.
Main outcome measure: The Geriatric Depression Scale short form (score range, 0-15) was used to routinely assess depressive symptoms during the follow-up period.
Results: Among older women, we identified 4 latent classes during 20 years, with the predicted probabilities of group membership totaling 27.8% with minimal depressive symptoms, 54.0% with persistently low depressive symptoms, 14.8% with increasing depressive symptoms, and 3.4% with persistently high depressive symptoms. In an adjusted model for latent class membership, odds ratios (ORs) for belonging in the increasing depressive symptoms and persistently high depressive symptoms classes, respectively, compared with a group having minimal depressive symptoms were substantially and significantly (P < .05) elevated for the following variables: baseline smoking (ORs, 4.69 and 7.97), physical inactivity (ORs, 2.11 and 2.78), small social network (ORs, 3.24 and 6.75), physical impairment (ORs, 8.11 and 16.43), myocardial infarction (ORs, 2.09 and 2.41), diabetes mellitus (ORs, 2.98 and 3.03), and obesity (ORs, 1.86 and 2.90).
Conclusions: During 20 years, almost 20% of older women experienced persistently high depressive symptoms or increasing depressive symptoms. In addition, these women had more comorbidities, physical impairment, and negative lifestyle factors at baseline. These associations support the need for intervention and prevention strategies to reduce depressive symptoms into the oldest-old years.