$9 billion cost of depression in senior citizens

March 25, 2017

Senior author Sandeep Vijan, M.D., M.S., adds, "Chronic diseases such as depression have an effect on society that extends beyond the patient. This study shows that the impact on families and caregivers is significant in terms of time and cost. The medical community often overlooks these factors when considering the best way to care for patients, but it is vitally important to consider the broad picture when making decisions on treatment and health policy."

Langa notes that the data used in the analysis are from 1993, before the new generation of anti-depressant medications became widely used and accepted, and before they were marketed directly to the public. The U-M team is now working to analyze data from the years 2000 and 2002, to see if there has been any change. All the data are from the Asset and Health Dynamics among the Oldest Old, or AHEAD, cohort of the Health and Retirement study.

The researchers found that older women, especially those without spouses, were more likely to have many symptoms of depression. ???This increased risk, combined with less social support and fewer financial means to pay for help, means they are especially likely to go without necessary care and assistance in everyday tasks,??? explains Langa. He and other U-M authors published a paper in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailing dramatic differences in home care, social support and net financial worth for disabled women as compared with disabled men.

Langa and his colleagues hope their study alerts physicians to the importance of paying extra attention to the depressive symptoms and caregiving needs of older women living alone.

They also hope their results will give physicians, policy makers and others a better sense of the relative importance, and cost, of depression among the elderly. The U-M team previously studied the costs of informal caregiving for elderly people with other chronic conditions, including diabetes, urinary incontinence, stroke and dementia. Although the estimated cost per person of informal care was highest for people with dementia and stroke, the high incidence of depression raises the total annual national cost. In all, depression??s $9 billion cost is second only to dementia??s $18 billion cost.

???Physicians have long been aware of the difficulties faced by caregivers of patients with dementia, and the time commitment of caring for them,??? says Valenstein. ???This study shows that we also need to be tuned in to the time commitments and stress faced by caregivers of people with depression.???

Besides Langa, Valenstein and Vijan, the authors are Mark Fendrick, M.D. and Mohammed Kabeto, M.S. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer??s Association.