Research Article| Volume 26, ISSUE 1, P107-122, January 2018

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Depression Among Older Adults: A 20-Year Update on Five Common Myths and Misconceptions


      • Compared to younger adults, is MDD in older adults symptomatically different, more common, difficult to treat, chronic, and more often caused by psychological factors?
      • MDD is less common in late-life, but has a more chronic course than younger adults. Older adults with subclinical depression report functional impairment similar to MDD.
      • Depression in late-life may be symptomatically different but more research is needed to separate impact of medical comorbidity.
      • Older adults respond to treatment as well as younger adults; antidepressants may be less efficacious in late-life, while older age is a favorable predictor of ECT response.
      • While older adults may benefit from enhanced ability to regulate emotions, research suggests that several age-related biological processes contribute to MDD in late-life.
      Is depression among older adults symptomatically different than younger adults? Is it more common or chronic or difficult to treat? Is depression in late life more likely to be attributed to psychological problems? Twenty-years ago, Dan Blazer, a pioneer known for his groundbreaking work on depression in older adulthood, conducted an important review of the existing literature to refute five commonly held beliefs about depression in late life. Now, two decades later, we call upon selected articles that are representative of our current knowledge to provide an update and identify research priorities. The research consensus spanning the past 20 years suggests that when compared with their younger counterparts, depression in older adults is not more common and is not more often caused by psychological factors. Although some studies have suggested that depression in late life may be symptomatically different and characterized by a more somatic presentation, there is insufficient empirical evidence to conclude that depression presents differently across adulthood. Overall, older adults respond to psychological interventions as well as younger adults, although evidence suggests that antidepressants are less efficacious in late life. Finally, compared with middle-aged adults, depression in older adults is associated with a more chronic course (i.e., higher rate of relapse), which is likely moderated by medical comorbidity. This special article summarizes our current understanding of the nature and treatment of late-life depression and highlights areas of inquiry in need of further study.

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