Over 67% of elderly in homes are suffering from depression

Study shows that majority of elderly home residents are likely to suffer from depression but are going undiagnosed and only treated with anti-depressants

More than two-thirds (67.3%) of residents in Malta’s two largest old people’s homes were found to be depressed and – more worryingly – the majority were not treated for their depression.

A newly published study conducted by gerontologists Paul Zammit and Anthony Fiorini was based on interviews held in 2011 in the two largest nursing homes in Malta, St Vincent De Paul home for the elderly and the Mtarfa home for the elderly.

Only 15 (10%) of the 150 persons interviewed were seen by a specialist regarding depression. The 150 residents were chosen randomly from the two homes, and a doctor conducted the interview. 

Results show that depression in nursing home residents was not only common but also under-diagnosed. The study also shows a lack of proper treatment in those identified with depression.

“There is a need for further research to develop intervention and management strategies for depression that is specifically tailored to meet the needs of the frail nursing home population,” the study concludes.

The prevalence of depression in residential homes was found to be higher than that in other countries. Only a study in Taiwan had a higher prevalence of depression while other studies on this subject had a lower one.

Maltese residents of homes for the elderly were found to suffer from the same rates of depression as other countries like the USA and the Netherlands, but were far more likely to suffer from minor depression. 

28.6% of the total number of residents were found to be on anti-depressants. Of the 101 who were found to be depressed, 35 (34.6%) were on anti-depressants. 

These levels are considered to be quite low by the authors of the study who said this could indicate a failure to diagnose cases of depression. “This was evident from the fact that only 41 of the 101 depressed residents (40.6%) had this diagnosis in their medical records”. 

Non-pharmacological treatment was described as nonexistent as none of the subjects were ever seen by a psychologist. Review by a psychiatrist was also low, with only 9.9% being seen. 

Residents of homes for the elderly are more likely to be depressed because they are also more likely to experience loneliness after being widowed. They are therefore more likely to experience “emptiness and solitude” resulting from inadequate levels of social relationships. Pain resulting from various diseases also contributes to depression. “A person who is in pain, especially if chronic, will have the mood affected adversely and may lead to a depressive disorder,” the authors of the study said, also noting that Dissatisfaction with living in a home for the elderly also contributes to depression.