Study shows ‘hidden’ effects

A new study reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has found that depression affects more older adults than was previously thought. Even though they may not meet the standard criteria for a diagnosis of clinical depression, many seniors have symptoms which do interfere with their regular lives.

Researchers at the University of Rochester call their discovery “lesser” depression, and note that it too can have profound effects. “This ‘lesser’ depression is not really any less of a depression,” says Dr. Jeffrey M. Lyness, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Centre. “People are not functioning well.”

The study looked at 224 people aged 60 or older, recruited from internal or family medicine practices. About 10% of the subjects demonstrated depressive symptoms, with a condition the researchers term “subsyndromal” depression. About 6.5% of the patients had major depression, and 5% had symptoms that mark “minor” depression.

Those with the lesser (or “subsyndromal”) depression had similar difficulties as those with major or minor depression, in daily activities such as feeding themselves, bathing, dressing, answerinthe telephone and going shopping.

Doctors often use a formal diagnostic interview to confirm depression. But the interview can miss those with subsyndromal depression because symptoms are intermittent, rather than persistently and almost daily. Experts point out that the study underlines the importance of identifying and treating people with less serious mood disorders. Others note that the diagnostic tools should be changed to detect this different form of depression.