University of New Hampshire, Manchester
Mentor: Dr. Alison Paglia, Assistant Professor of Psychology
The Effect of Ageism on the Clinical Assessment of Depression
Ageism is prejudice based on age. Ageism results in misperceptions that bias accurate assessment of the psychological state of the elderly individual. The symptoms of major depression include changes in sleep or appetite, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. These depressive symptoms are often confused with what is stereotypically perceived to be normal function for an aged subject. Major depression increases the effects of comorbid illnesses by suppressing immune function, increasing weight loss, decreasing physical ability and reducing patient motivation to follow treatment directives. It is important that depression be recognized and treated in patients of all ages. In this study, a simulated patient profile was distributed to health care personnel in a variety of clinical settings and nursing facilities. All profiles were identical except for the date of birth and a facial picture of the hypothetical patient. This profile described a patient experiencing 4 of the 5 criteria for major depression identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV. The independent variable of age had two levels: 75 years and 35 years. A questionnaire was used to measure the effect of patient age on the participant’s likelihood of assigning depression as the prevailing etiology. It is hypothesized that older patients will be less often assigned the condition of depression as depressive behavior is often felt to be normal behavior for the elderly. As major depression can be effectively treated, awareness of its presentation is essential for all age groups. This study will help raise awareness of the importance of identifying depression in older individuals in order to deliver medical care to them more effectively.