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Exploring Policies and Social Interventions to Address Depression and Alcohol Misuse in Older Adults

Senior citizens cycling in park

April 10, 2019

Depression, with a prevalence around 13 percent, is the leading mental health issue among older adults. Later-life depression is particularly concerning given its association with numerous comorbidities. Alcohol misuse is also an emerging public health problem among older people and the two conditions often coexist.

New research, led by Ivana Stankov, PhD, senior research scientist at the Urban Health Collaborative at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel, used an agent-based model (ABM) to investigate depression and excessive alcohol consumption among urban, older adults. This study is one of a few using complex systems simulations to understand how different policy levers can be used to improve mental health outcomes.

Study findings suggest a relationship between depression and alcohol misuse, though the feedback interactions between them may not be strong. The ABM also suggests that alcohol misuse patterns among older adults may be relatively insensitive to changes in alcohol pricing. Social interventions targeting isolated and depressed older adults to increase their social connectedness may be effective in reducing the prevalence of depression overall.

“We hope that this research will provide insights into the potential effectiveness of taxation policies and interventions designed to reduce social isolation among older adults, and the importance of targeting in such efforts,” Stankov said. Further research on the impact of alcohol taxes and alcohol outlet density, drinking patterns among older adults, by gender, and across the socioeconomic spectrum, are needed to gauge the potential effectiveness of new policies on alcohol misuse.

This research was published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.