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Not so happy old age?

Depressive symptoms increase with age

University of Bradford

The notion that older people are happier than younger people is being challenged following a recent study led by a University of Bradford lecturer.

In fact it suggests that people get more depressed from age 65 onwards.

The study, led by psychology lecturer Dr Helena Chui and recently published in the international journal Psychology and Aging, builds on a 15-year project observing over 2,000 older Australians living in the Adelaide area.

Previous studies have shown an increase in depressive symptoms with age but only until the age of 85. This is the first study to examine the issue beyond that age.

Both men and women taking part in the study reported increasingly more depressive symptoms as they aged, with women initially starting with more depressive symptoms than men. However, men showed a faster rate of increase in symptoms so that the difference in the genders was reversed at around the age of 80.

Key factors in these increases include levels of physical impairment, the onset of medical conditions, particularly chronic ones, and the approach of death. Half of those in the study suffered with arthritis and both men and women with the chronic condition reported more depressive symptoms than those without.

Dr Chui said: "These findings are very significant and have implications for how we deal with old age. It's the first study to tell us depressive symptoms continue to increase throughout old age. We are in a period of unprecedented success in terms of people living longer than ever and in greater numbers and we should be celebrating this but it seems that we are finding it hard to cope.

"It seems that we need to look carefully at the provision of adequate services to match these needs, particularly in the area of mental health support and pain management. Social policies and ageing-friendly support structures, such as the provision of public transport and access to health care services are needed to target the 'oldest-old' adults as a whole."


The study is funded by the Australian Research Council, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Canada Research Chairs Program. The research team included Denis Gestorf of Humboldt University, Christiane A. Hoppman of University of British Columbia, and Mary A. Luszcz of Flinders University.

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