Antidepressant use in over 65s has more than doubled in 20 years, study finds

Sarah Young
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The number of older people taking antidepressants has more than doubled in 20 years, according to new research.

Scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA) interviewed more than 15,000 over-65s in England and Wales between 1990-1993 and 2008-2011 as part of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies.

The participants were asked about their general health, daily activities, use of health and social care services, and medications.

The researchers then identified people who presented with symptoms of case level depression – more severe than low mood – including loss of energy, interest or enjoyment.

Data showed that just over 10 per cent of over 65s had been prescribed antidepressants between 2008 and 2011.

This is compared to just 4.2 per cent who were using them in the early 1990s.

The increase in antidepressant use comes despite the estimated prevalence of depression in the same age group falling over the same period.

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Professor Carol Brayne, the study’s lead investigator and director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, said: “Our research has previously shown a dramatic age-for-age drop in dementia occurrence across generations.

“This new work reveals that depression has not shown the same reduction even in the presence of dramatically increased prescribing, itself not without concern given potential adverse effects we have also shown that are associated with polypharmacy.”

The authors said it was unclear whether the increases in treatment reflected “overdiagnosis, better recognition and prescribing, or the prescribing of antidepressant medication for conditions other than depression”.

Professor Antony Arthur, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences, said: ”Whatever the explanation, substantial increases in prescribing has not reduced the prevalence of depression in the over-65 population.

“The causes of depression in older people, the factors that perpetuate it, and the best ways to manage it remain poorly understood and merit more attention.”

The research was led by the UEA in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, the University of Newcastle and the University of Nottingham.

The findings are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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