Objectives: Information on the prevalence and risk factors for depressive disorders in old age is of considerable interest for the assessment of future needs of the health care system. The aim of the study is to determine age- and gender-specific prevalence of major depression (MD), minor depression (MiD), and depressive symptoms, and to analyze risk factors associated with depressive symptoms.
Methods: A representative sample of the German population of 1,659 individuals aged 60 to 85 years were visited at home and answered self-rating questionnaires. Depressive symptoms and syndromes (MD, MiD) were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Factors associated with depressive symptoms were determined with linear regression models for the total sample and for men and women separately.
Results: Depressive symptoms were found in 28.7% of the participants, while 6.6% were affected by MD or MiD. The highest prevalence of MD and depressive symptoms was found in the oldest age groups. MiD showed an unsteady course across age groups in both sexes. In the total sample as well as in the male subsample, depressive symptoms were significantly associated with increasing age, lower household income, an increasing number of medical conditions, and lower social support. In women only, the number of medical conditions and lacking social support were significantly associated with depressive symptoms.
Conclusions: Depressive symptoms are common in old age and occur on a spectrum ranging from very mild forms to MD. The potential modifiability of a number of risk factors for depressive symptoms opens possibilities of secondary prevention such as treatment of chronic diseases as well as support in requirements of daily living.