“It is the first study to tell us depressive symptoms continue to increase throughout old age,” said lead researcher Helena Chui, lecturer in psychology at University of Bradford in England.
“We are in a period of unprecedented success in terms of people living longer than ever and in greater numbers and we should be celebrating this but it seems that we are finding it hard to cope,” Chui explained.
The study builds on a 15-year project observing over 2,000 older Australians living in the Adelaide area.
Both men and women taking part in the study reported increasingly more depressive symptoms as they aged, with women initially starting with more depressive symptoms than men.
However, men showed a faster rate of increase in symptoms so that the difference in the genders was reversed at around the age of 80.
Key factors in these increases include levels of physical impairment, the onset of medical conditions, particularly chronic ones, and the approach of death, the researchers said.
Half of those in the study suffered with arthritis and both men and women with the chronic condition reported more depressive symptoms than those without.
“These findings are very significant and have implications for how we deal with old age,” Dr Chui said.
The study was published in the journal Psychology and Aging.