Depression in Older Adults Critically Analyzed

Though depression is a psychological issue that receives a notable amount of attention from psychology professionals, it is sometimes overlooked in older populations, and these same populations tend to exhibit depressive symptoms that prove more difficult to understand and to treat than those expressed in younger people. Aiming to address the address the need for more precise treatment of depression in the elderly, a study at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto has been conducted and suggests that older adults with depressive symptoms are at a disadvantage for recognizing and analyzing the emotions of others.

Participants in the study, who ranged in age from sixty to eighty seven, were shown a number of faces, each of which had either happy, sad, fearful, or neutral expressions. The study was split between two tasks, the first of which asked participants to make a judgment about a particular facial feature. The second task required participants to evaluate the emotion expressed by the face. The researchers found that compared to a healthy control group of same-generation elderly adults who did not show depressive symptoms, the study group was very fast in response time when judging the facial features of emotionally charged faces. Those in the control group took sixteen percent longer, on average, to judge the features of sad, happy, and fearful faces, but the study group showed no significant response time increase. The depressed group also had greater difficulty identifying the emotions of the faces, with a sixty percent increase in difficulty as compared to the control group.

The researchers suggest that this diminished ability to understand and recognize the emotions of others may lead to less successful social interactions, which may in turn facilitate feelings of depression and isolation. The small sample size of eleven participants for each group proposes that studies on a larger scale may be necessary to verify and expand the information found in the Baycrest investigation.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Charles


    May 6th, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    Note that “16 percent longer” in this case corresponds to a mean response time of 1217 milliseconds (1.217s) in the depressed group versus 1183 milliseconds (1.183s) in the control, with respective standard deviations of 271ms and 258ms. Allow me to pause 34ms (+/- 250-some ms) for gravitas while you ponder the distinction between “statistically significant” and “meaningful”.

  • Holly


    May 6th, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    If the reason for a psychological concern is different,then the way it is viewed should also be different,isn’t it?

    Young people often suffer from depression due to pressure at work or at school or due to failed relationships and the like.But for the older people,the reasons are completely different.They often feel depressed because they have nobody around them and due to the empty-nest syndrome.

  • Kellie


    May 7th, 2010 at 2:40 AM

    Why is it that older populations would experience depression in such a different way? Do you think that it is years of life experiences that perhaps changes the way that they look at and view life? That would have to be part of it.

  • Paula


    May 10th, 2010 at 3:07 AM

    maybe because older people are so often characterized as being grumpy, this is what people think when beneath it all they are depressed and do not know how to cope with the things happening to their bodies when it comes to aging

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