Cedars-Sinai Blog

Study: Seniors Benefit from Depression Treatment as Much as Younger Patients

Elderly person sucessfully confronting depression

You're never too old to successfully confront depression.

A new Cedars-Sinai study finds that, contrary to popular belief, seniors treated for depression experience improvements comparable to those of their younger counterparts.

"In many diseases, younger patients have better recovery than elderly patients," says Dr. Waguih William Ishak, a psychiatrist and senior author of the study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. "With depression, patients of all ages showed improvement in functioning and quality of life after treatment."

"It's our hope that older patients struggling with depression will recognize that this is a legitimate health issue—and there are effective treatments for it."

In the study, researchers examined data related to quality of life from 2,280 patients involved in the National Institute of Mental Health's largest depression study, called Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression, or STAR*D.

Patients in the study were assessed before and after treatment for depression, using standard assessment questionnaires. The result: Both older adults and adults under age 65 experienced significant improvements in their quality of life.

Although older patients were prone to have more severe depressive episodes that lasted longer, they responded to treatment as well as younger patients in terms of functional outcomes. They reported increased energy, improved outlook on life, and feeling deeper connections with friends, family, and their community.

Depression and disability

More than 18 million Americans experience a clinically significant major depressive episode each year. Major depression is characterized by persistent sadness, lowered activity level, and negative thoughts lasting longer than 2 weeks.

Depression is the leading cause of disability and third-leading contributor to disease, affecting 350 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The problem is more prevalent among older people. Depression among adults over age 65 runs as high as 42% among elderly living in institutional housing.

"It's our hope that older patients struggling with depression and their loved ones will recognize that this is a legitimate health issue—and there are effective treatments for it," Dr. Ishak says.

"Many people who are depressed may not realize there are treatments that can improve their lives, regardless of age. That's why Cedars-Sinai instituted a screening program for depression. Every patient admitted to the hospital is screened so that we can begin their treatment while they're here."