New UK research has found that the number of older adults taking antidepressants has more than doubled in the last two decades, although there has been little change in the number of people diagnosed with the condition.
Led by the University of East Anglia in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, the University of Newcastle and the University of Nottingham, the new study looked at data gathered from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies, which were carried out between 1991 and 1993 and again between 2008 and 2011.
The studies included more than 15,000 adults over the age of 65 in England and Wales who were interviewed by researchers about their health, daily activities, use of health and social care services, and any medications they were taking.
The researchers also assessed the participants for 'case level' depression, which is a level of depression more severe than depression characterized by minor mood symptoms, such as loss of energy or enjoyment.
The findings, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, showed that the number of adults aged 65 and over receiving antidepressants had more than doubled from 4.2 percent at the start of the study to 10.7 percent 20 years later.
However, despite the large increase in antidepressant use, the rate of depression had not changed much at all, with the researchers estimating the prevalence of the condition as 7.9 percent in early 1990s and 6.8 percent 20 years later.
The results also showed that both depression and antidepressant use were more common in women than men at both time points. Those living in more deprived areas were also more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
The researchers also found that at both time points most people with case-level depression were not on antidepressants, and most of those on antidepressants did not actually have depression.
Lead author Prof Antony Arthur commented on the findings saying, "Between two comparable samples interviewed 20 years apart (1990-93 and 2008-11) we found little change in the prevalence of depression, but the proportion of participants taking antidepressants rose from 4 percent to almost 11 percent. This 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."