The number of patients aged 65 and above being prescribed antidepressants has more than doubled over the past 20 years, in spite of a slight decrease in diagnoses of depression, a new study has shown.

Research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies found the proportion of over 65s on antidepressants leapt from 4.2% in the early 1990s, to 10.7% twenty years later.

However, over the same period the prevalence of depression in this group of older patients dropped from an estimated 7.9% in the early 1990s, to 6.8% now, according to the researchers from the universities of East Anglia, Cambridge, Newcastle and Nottingham.

Those behind the study said regular review of patients was key to identify opportunities to deprescribe safely, but also noted some patients had unrecognised depression, and might benefit from antidepressants.


'Poor quality of life'


Researchers interviewed more than 15,000 patients aged over 65 in England and Wales over the course of the study -  between 1991 and 1993, then again from 2008 to 2011.

They found depression and antidepressant use were consistently observed more in women than men, and that depression was also associated with living in more deprived areas.

Lead study author Professor Antony Arthur, from the University of East Anglia, said: ‘Depression is a leading cause of poor quality of life worldwide and we know that older people may be less likely than other age groups to go to their GP with symptoms of depression.

‘Until now, little was known about how the relationship between the prevalence of depression and antidepressant use among older people has changed over time.'