More Swedish seniors taking antidepressants

Published 17 February 2024
- By Editorial Staff
It is unclear how effective antidepressants really are in older people.

The number of older people using antidepressants has increased by 23% since 2006. The largest documented increase has been in women, which is thought to be due to under-diagnosis of depression in older men.

On behalf of the government, the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) has mapped the prescription of antidepressants to people aged 65 and over between 2006 and 2022. The mapping shows that the use of antidepressants is almost 70 percent higher among older women than among older men. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with both anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, suicide is three times more common among men than women in this age group.

– There is a lot of evidence that there is an under-diagnosis of depression in men, Johan Fastblom, project manager of the survey, medical expert at the National Board of Health and Welfare and professor of geriatric pharmacology at the Karolinska Institutet, told the Bonnier-owned newspaper DN.

Fastblom believes that the methods for detecting depression may be better adapted to women than to men, while men are often less likely to seek care for such problems.

Quintupling of antidepressants

According to the survey, the use of antidepressants has increased mainly because they treat more symptoms. For example, the prescription of antidepressants for sleep problems increased fivefold over the period. Antidepressants are also more often prescribed for dementia. At the same time, fewer older people are being treated with psychotherapy for anxiety and depression than younger people. Fastblom suggests that this may be because they are less likely to be offered it, but also because they may be more likely to refuse it.

Whether antidepressants are effective for older people is not known for sure. According to Fastblom, for example, a recent systematic review found that there is currently no scientific basis for this.

– We don’t really know for sure how effective they are for depression in older people, he says.

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