A tune in “a minor” can “b major”: a review of epidemiology, illness course, and public health implications of subthreshold depression in older adults. J Affect Disord

Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, UCSD, United States.
Journal of Affective Disorders (Impact Factor: 3.38). 10/2010; 129(1-3):126-42. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2010.09.015
Source: PubMed


With emphasis on dimensional aspects of psychopathology in development of the upcoming DSM-V, we systematically review data on epidemiology, illness course, risk factors for, and consequences of late-life depressive syndromes not meeting DSM-IV-TR criteria for major depression or dysthymia. We termed these syndromes subthreshold depression, including minor depression and subsyndromal depression.
We searched PubMed (1980-Jan 2010) using the terms: subsyndromal depression, subthreshold depression, and minor depression in combination with elderly, geriatric, older adult, and late-life. Data were extracted from 181 studies of late-life subthreshold depression.
In older adults subthreshold depression was generally at least 2-3 times more prevalent (median community point prevalence 9.8%) than major depression. Prevalence of subthreshold depression was lower in community settings versus primary care and highest in long-term care settings. Approximately 8-10% of older persons with subthreshold depression developed major depression per year. The course of late-life subthreshold depression was more favorable than that of late-life major depression, but far from benign, with a median remission rate to non-depressed status of only 27% after ≥1 year. Prominent risk factors included female gender, medical burden, disability, and low social support; consequences included increased disability, greater healthcare utilization, and increased suicidal ideation.
Heterogeneity of the data, especially related to definitions of subthreshold depression limit our ability to conduct meta-analysis.
The high prevalence and associated adverse health outcomes of late-life subthreshold depression indicate the major public health significance of this condition and suggest a need for further research on its neurobiology and treatment. Such efforts could potentially lead to prevention of considerable morbidity for the growing number of older adults.

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