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Review of community prevalence of depression in later life

  • A. T. F. Beekman (a1), John Copeland (a2) and M. J. Prince (a3)

Despite considerable interest, there is no consensus regarding the prevalence of depression in later life.


To assess the prevalence of late-life depression in the community.


A systematic review of community-based studies of the prevalence of depression in later life (55+). Literature was analysed by level of caseness at which depression was defined and measured.


Thirty-four studies eligible for inclusion were found. The reported prevalence rates vary enormously (0.4–35%). Arranged according to level of caseness, major depression is relatively rare among the elderly (weighted average prevalence 1.8%), minor depression is more common (weighted average prevalence 9.8%), while all depressive syndromes deemed clinically relevant yield an average prevalence of 13.5%. There is consistent evidence for higher prevalence rates for women and among older people living under adverse socio-economic circumstances.


Depression is common in later life. Methodological differences between studies preclude firm conclusions about cross-cultural and geographical variation. Improving the comparability of epidemiological research constitutes an important step forward.

Corresponding author
Aartjan Beekman, Department of Psychiatry, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, PCA-Valeriusclinic, Valeriusplein 9, 1075 BG Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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Declaration of interest

The European Commission BIOMEDI Initiative funded this Concerted Action Programme.

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Review of community prevalence of depression in later life

  • A. T. F. Beekman (a1), John Copeland (a2) and M. J. Prince (a3)
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