• depression;
  • prevalence;
  • aged;
  • predictors;
  • epidemiology;
  • community;
  • residential facilities

Objective:  To offer an update on prevalence and predictors of old age depression in populations of elderly Caucasians.

Method:  The databases MEDLINE and Psychinfo were searched and relevant literature from 1993 onwards was reviewed.

Results:  The prevalence of major depression ranges from 0.9% to 9.4% in private households, from 14% to 42% in institutional living, and from 1% to 16% among elderly living in private households or in institutions; and clinically relevant depressive symptom ‘cases’ in similar settings vary between 7.2% and 49%. The main predictors of depressive disorders and depressive symptom cases are: female gender, somatic illness, cognitive impairment, functional impairment, lack or loss of close social contacts, and a history of depression.

Conclusion:  Depression is frequent in populations of elderly. Methodological differences between the studies hinder consistent conclusions about geographical and cross-cultural variations in prevalence and predictors of depression. Improved comparability will provide a basis for consistent conclusions.