Background: There is considerable debate about the prevalence of depression in old age. Epidemiological surveys and clinical studies indicate mixed evidence for the association between depression and increasing age. We examined the prevalence of probable depression in the middle aged to the oldest old in a project designed specifically to investigate the aging process.
Methods: Community-living participants were drawn from several Australian longitudinal studies of aging that contributed to the Dynamic Analyses to Optimise Ageing (DYNOPTA) project. Different depression scales from the contributing studies were harmonized to create a binary variable that reflected “probable depression” based on existing cut-points for each harmonized scale. Weighted prevalence was benchmarked to the Australian population which could be compared with findings from the 1997 and 2007 National Surveys of Mental Health and Well-Being (NSMHWB).
Results: In the DYNOPTA project, females were more likely to report probable depression. This was consistent across age levels. Both NSMHWB surveys and DYNOPTA did not report a decline in the likelihood of reporting probable depression for the oldest old in comparison with mid-life.
Conclusions: Inconsistency in the reports of late-life depression prevalence in previous epidemiological studies may be explained by either the exclusion and/or limited sampling of the oldest old. DYNOPTA addresses these limitations and the results indicated no change in the likelihood of reporting depression with increasing age. Further research should extend these findings to examine within-person change in a longitudinal context and control for health covariates.