Depression Screening and the Older Adult Population

Episodes of depression can occur at any stage during the lifespan, and professional screenings for depressive symptoms are increasingly being incorporated into more settings – doctor’s offices, schools, community health fairs, etc. Recent research, however, suggests that there is plenty of work to be done to ensure that adults in the US are being screened for depression.

A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that, despite the recommendation of the US Preventative Services Task Force that every adult be regularly screened for major depression regardless of whether they or their health care providers are aware of any symptoms, only about 50% of adults over age 35 reported having been screened for depression. This research also found that certain groups of people were less likely to have been screened, including men, adults age 75 and over, the uninsured, and minorities.

These results are particularly troublesome when paired with results of another recent study, published in Lancet Psychiatry, which showed that the course of depression worsens linearly with age. Researchers in this study looked at the severity and course of depression for different age groups, and found that older age was associated with a worse outcome, even when controlling for other factors such as physical health, social supports, loneliness, and more.

Although there are many different treatment options for depression currently available and continually being developed, a critical first step is to identify those individuals who could benefit from treatment. The screening of older adults should be of particular concern and importance, as their experience with depression is likely to be worse and therefore a robust treatment approach may be even more appropriate.

Kato, E. Borsky, A. E., Zuvekas, S. H., Soni, A., Ngo-Metzger, Q. (2018), Missed Opportunities for Depression Screening and Treatment in the United States.  Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 2018;31(3):389-397

Depression More Severe, Persistent in the Elderly – Medscape – Jun 21, 2018.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255