Rise in antidepressant use in over-65s

  • Date: 14 October 2019

A RECENT study has revealed a significant increase in antidepressant use over two decades in people aged 65 and older.

Research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry looked at two English population-based cohort studies – The Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies (CFAS I and CFAS II) – conducted two decades apart (between 1990 and 1993 and between 2008 and 2011).

The study observed that at the time of CFAS II, 10.7 per cent of the subject population were taking antidepressant medication which was more than twice that of seen in CFAS I. This was despite the estimated prevalence of depression among over 65s falling to 6.8 per cent compared to 7.9 per cent in the 1990s.

It also found that among care home residents, depression prevalence was unchanged, but the use of antidepressants increased from 7.4 per cent to 29.2 per cent.

Lead author Professor Antony Arthur, from the University of East Anglia, said: "[The increase in antidepressant use] could be due to improved recognition and treatment of depression, overprescribing, or use of antidepressants for other conditions. 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 Royal College of GPs observed that the increase could indicate more older people seeking help for mental health conditions.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, commented: "This increase in anti-depressant use among older people could indicate a greater awareness and acceptance of mental health conditions in society, and show more people over 65 are seeking help for mental health problems which in the past may have been ignored or under-treated - which are both encouraging.

"We also have much better understanding of the effectiveness of antidepressants than we did in the early 90s - and it's important to remember that current evidence shows these drugs work well when prescribed appropriately."

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