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Antidepressant use in over-65s doubles in 20 years according to University study


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The University has contributed to a new study which suggests that the number of older people taking antidepressants has more than doubled in 20 years.

The paper, led by the University of East Anglia in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, the University of Newcastle and the University of Nottingham, reports findings from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (CFAS), which is a population-based study of over 15,000 people aged 65 plus. The study had two parts, CFAS I and CFASII, which were conducted 20 years apart on different groups of people.

More questions than answers

The study was led and co-ordinated from the University of Cambridge, with the University of Nottingham used as one of its centres for both stages. The current local investigator for Nottingham is Professor Tom Dening of the Division of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology:  

"This recently published paper looked at depression, to see if there were any changes either in its frequency (prevalence) or in the use of antidepressants to treat it. The main finding was that there was not a sizeable change in the numbers of people with depression even though over twice as many people were being prescribed antidepressants.

"This is an important result, although it raises more questions than it answers. For example, it might mean that depression would be even more common in the current cohort if there were fewer people taking antidepressants.

"However, it might also mean that people are being prescribed antidepressants and are not really benefitting from them. This causes concern as we have also recently, in a separate study, published research showing that drugs with anticholinergic properties (which include many antidepressants) are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, so it is important that prescribing should be done carefully.

"Perhaps the message is that we should look more carefully at responses to depression other than medication such as psychological treatments and improving social resources for older people."

A continuation of the study

The CFASII study was conducted using the same methods as CFASI, which enables comparisons to be made about changes in the frequency of disorders and also the treatments being used across a 20-year period. Recent CFAS papers have reported a decrease in the prevalence and incidence of dementia during this period, which is likely due to improved general health in the more recent population. And what next for the study?

"CFAS is continuing to follow up with the current group of participants. The plan is to interview them every couple of years or so, which then provides valuable longitudinal data about people’s lives as they get older. From this, we can look at important questions such as the course of dementia and cognitive impairment, outcomes for people with depression, and the interplay between physical and mental health."

Read more about the CFAS study:

Posted on Wednesday 23rd October 2019

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