Skip to main content

Depression among seniors on the decline

July 17, 2013

Physical well-being isn't the only component of healthy aging. Mental health also plays a significant role, as a recent study out of Australia revealed that depression and anxiety are tied to a greater risk of disability. Given the importance that mental well-being can have on physical health, some new findings from the University of Michigan Health Systems should come as good news. The study found that depressive symptoms are down in the U.S., especially among older adults, according to results published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers relied on data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationwide project meant to assess the lives of adults 51 and older. Focusing on the period between 1998 and 2008, the team discovered that the prevalence of people showing no depressive symptoms jumped from 40.7 percent to 47.4 percent. The group that saw the biggest improvement  included study subjects between 80 and 84, who experienced a 23 percent increase in people without depressive symptoms. The results are encouraging, but experts stress that depression is still a significant senior health issue.

"I hope people realize there have been some improvements in depression but that it still remains a concern as we [begin to] think about the aging population," Dr. Kara Zivin, the study's lead author, told The Huffington Post. "There's still a relatively high percentage - 14 percent - of this age group [with] depressive symptoms. We still have to pay attention. Depression is known to be associated with a variety of chronic diseases."

There are some proactive steps seniors can take to prevent depression. The Mayo Clinic recommends seniors focus on exercising because physical activity tends to boost the level of feel-good chemicals called endorphins and reduce symptoms of depression.