Objective: To study the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) characteristics in older adults with and without depressive disorders and the social network and past negative life events in those with a high number of ASD characteristics and those without a large number of these characteristics.
Methods: This large, multisite, naturalistic, prospective cohort study used data from the Netherlands Study of Depression in Older persons (aged 60-90 years) with (N = 259) and without (N = 114) a depressive disorder according to DSM-IV criteria. ASD characteristics were measured with the abbreviated Autism Spectrum Quotient with a cutoff score of 70. Additional measures were the Composite International Diagnostic Interview, the Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology, the Becks Anxiety Inventory, the Close Person Inventory, and the life events questionnaire.
Results: Of the older adults with a depressive disorder, 31% showed elevated ASD characteristics, which is much higher than the observed 6% in the comparison group. High ASD characteristics were associated with elevated depression and anxiety symptoms and more comorbid anxiety disorders. Those with a high number of ASD characteristics did not differ in the size of their social network or the number of negative life events as compared with those with less ASD characteristics.
Conclusion: ASD might be overlooked in older adults, especially within geriatric psychiatry. When diagnosing and treating depression and anxiety in older patients, one should be attentive to ASD.
Keywords: Depression; autism traits; older adults.
Copyright © 2016 American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.