Personality Study On Depression: Risk Of First Episode In Late Life

A recent study by the University of Rochester Medical Center found that certain personality characteristics were associated with a higher risk of having a first incidence of depression in later life. As reported in an April 14, 2008 article at ScienceDaily, people over the age of 70 whose personality characteristics make them more vulnerable to having feelings of distress, insecurity, anxiety and worry, are far more likely to experience a first episode of clinical depression in their later years than those who do not exhibit these same characteristics.

Paul R. Duberstein Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, and the lead researcher stated “We assume that because depression has not developed for people with these personality traits by the age of 70 that it won’t develop.” He went on to state that: “But even in older adulthood, these traits confer risk. Presumably something about aging helps take down the facade or destroys the protective sheath that has kept them from significant depression.”

Additional results from this unique study are published in the May edition of the journal Psychological Medicine. The study found that women were at greater risk than men and that individuals having a working-class background were also at increased risk for depression particularly prior to the age of 80. The study will help to understand some of the personality characteristics associated with late life depression. Dr. Duberstein, who is director of the Laboratory of Personality and Development at the Medical Center stated: “The findings suggest that long-standing personality traits can predict onset of depression into older adulthood.”

Researchers in this study considered data from a multidisciplinary study of 70-year-old residents from Goteborg, Sweden which began in 1971 in order to have a better understanding of aging, and some of the age-related disorders that develop among this age group.

Because most individuals in Sweden receive public healthcare, the study had access to medical records going back several decades. Data collection also included physical, mental health and social assessment. Individuals were then examined periodically over a 15 year period of time, at the ages of 75, 79, 81, 83 and 85.

Individuals with dementia and some other psychiatric disorders were eliminated from the study. Overall, a total of 275 records were analyzed, finding 59 cases of first lifetime episodes of depression after the age of 70. Authors of the study stated: “Although we are aware of no research on how people who are highly distress prone managed to stave off clinically significant depression, protective factors might play a role.” They went on to conclude that: “Candidate protective factors include close personal relationships, rewarding occupations or meaningful hobbies, physical vigor and vitality, economic independence, and spiritual well-being. Processes related to aging might inexorably erode some of these protective factors.”

The researchers obviously recommend continuing the study between age, personality and first-time episodes of depression. They stated: “This is a particularly important issue for older men, given their high suicide rate in many Western countries, and the observation that they often take their lives in the midst of a first lifetime episode of depression.”

Adapted from an article at ScienceDaily (April 14, 2008) Personality Study Shows Risk of First Depression Episode Late in Life

University of Rochester Medical Center (2008, April 14). Personality Study Shows Risk Of First Depression Episode Late In Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/04/080411124607.htm

Additional Information and webpage by Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist