Almost a quarter of all prescriptions for anti-depressants last year were for people aged 75 or older, according to data from the Health Service Executive.
A leading geriatrician said there is a “lingering effect” of Covid on this age cohort that is affecting their mental wellbeing, which compounds an already-existing high level of depression among older people.
Figures obtained by The Irish Times show 932,207 prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued to people aged 75 or older last year, up 19 per cent on 2019 when 779,614 were issued.
The number of anti-depressant prescriptions to people of this age has increased by 53 per cent over the past decade, from 609,083 in 2012.
The number of prescriptions to over-75s last year represented 24 per cent of the total 3,828,149 anti-depressant prescriptions.
Dr Brian Osborne, a GP in Galway and assistant medical director at the Irish College of General Practitioners, said older patients can commonly present with “loneliness, symptoms of depression, anxiety and at times with suicidal thoughts. Isolation and loneliness increased during the pandemic and some are finding it difficult to reconnect with their social networks which is negatively impacting on their mental wellbeing.”
Prof Rose Anne Kenny, a geriatrician and professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin, said while, overall, older people tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction than other age demographics, depression levels also rise when you age.
“There is a biological reason. There are vascular changes — the integrity of vessels — and there is a vascular component to depression,” she said.
“There are also environmental reasons: loneliness, social isolation, family changes [and] financial reasons. Those who are active and engaged in creativity are significantly less likely to experience depression. Exercise also makes a difference to depression.”
Prof Kenny said her work on the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing reviewed rates of clinical depression among the over-70s, which found pre-Covid the prevalence was 7 per cent, which rose to 20 per cent during Covid and now stands at about 12 per cent.
“Our hypothesis is there is a lingering effect from Covid among older people and that people have lost confidence in many ways … They’re finding it hard to get back into activities and engagement. And the effect of all of that is depression,” she added.