The Lancet Regional Health - Europe, Volume 18, July 2022,
Background: The high prevalence of depression in a growing aging population represents a critical public health issue. It is unclear how social, health, cognitive, and functional variables rank as risk/protective factors for depression among older adults and whether there are conspicuous differences among men and women. Methods: We used random forest analysis (RFA), a machine learning method, to compare 56 risk/protective factors for depression in a large representative sample of European older adults (N = 67,603; ages 45-105y; 56.1% women; 18 countries) from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE Wave 6). Depressive symptoms were assessed using the EURO-D questionnaire: Scores ≥ 4 indicated depression. Predictors included a broad array of sociodemographic, relational, health, lifestyle, and cognitive variables. Findings: Self-rated social isolation and self-rated poor health were the strongest risk factors, accounting for 22.0% (in men) and 22.3% (in women) of variability in depression. Odds ratios (OR) per +1SD in social isolation were 1.99x, 95% CI [1.90,2.08] in men; 1.93x, 95% CI [1.85,2.02] in women. OR for self-rated poor health were 1.93x, 95% CI [1.81,2.05] in men; 1.98x, 95% CI [1.87,2.10] in women. Difficulties in mobility (in both sexes), difficulties in instrumental activities of daily living (in men), and higher self-rated family burden (in women) accounted for an additional but small percentage of variance in depression risk (2.2% in men, 1.5% in women). Interpretation: Among 56 predictors, self-perceived social isolation and self-rated poor health were the most salient risk factors for depression in middle-aged and older men and women. Difficulties in instrumental activities of daily living (in men) and increased family burden (in women) appear to differentially influence depression risk across sexes. Funding: This study was internally funded by Colorado State University through research start-up monies provided to Stephen Aichele, Ph.D.