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Being the oldest of the old can be depressing

November 24, 2008 |  9:30 am

Centenarian1Psychological studies have shown that old age can be one of the happiest and most satisfying times of life. But depression is an illness that can strike at any age -- even among the oldest of the old, according to new research.

A study from Temple University researchers presented today at the annual Gerontological Society Meeting of America looked for depression in a sample of 244 people who were age 100 or older. More than 25% of the people showed clinically relevant levels of depressive symptoms, but only 8% reported having been diagnosed with depression.

The findings are surprising because people who are prone to depression throughout life tend to have higher death rates. This group of people, however, had thrived physically but were suffering mentally, at least at this time in their lives. According to the lead author of the study, developmental psychologist Adam Davey, depression in centenarians could be linked to a number of factors, including poor nutritional status, urinary incontinence, limited physical activity and a past history of anxiety.

It's important for family members and caregivers to look for signs of depression even in very elderly people. The illness is easily treated, Davey said in a news release. Depression, he said, "is not just something that younger people suffer from."

- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times