Depression Treatment in Older Adults


Depression affects an estimated 25 percent of adults age 60 and older. But because the stigma of mental illness continues in this generation, depressive symptoms often go underreported and the condition remains untreated. Doctors link late-life depression to:

  • Physical ailments or chronic pain
  • Changing relationships or loss of a partner
  • Financial stress
  • Loss of independence
  • Isolation and loneliness

Identifying depression in seniors

The best chance of diagnosing and providing relief for late-life depression comes when patients self-report their symptoms to their physicians. Often, family members are the ones to spot the symptoms and then encourage their loved one to speak to a doctor. Signs of depression in seniors include:

  • Restlessness and poor sleep
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Irritability or pessimism
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Medical complaints that have no apparent cause and aren’t relieved with treatment

UCLA researchers study treatment options to address depression in the elderly

While antidepressants help 40 to 50 percent of younger adults, studies have shown that only 30 to 40 percent of older adults find relief from antidepressant medication. UCLA’s Late-Life Mood, Stress and Wellness Research Program is actively studying depression in older adults, including why depression treatment is less successful for this group.

The OPTIMUM study is the largest study ever to investigate treatment options for geriatric depression. It will enroll 300 people ages 60 and older who have unsuccessfully tried two or more antidepressants. Researchers may add a new medication to a patient’s existing antidepressant, or they may switch the patient to a different drug. The goal is to evaluate whether certain drugs or combinations of drugs are more effective in older adults.

Combatting geriatric depression

Researchers caution that it is difficult to treat depression in older adults with medicines alone. Addressing psycho-social stresses — finances, health, relationships — is important to help reduce the worry and anxiety linked to depression. To promote overall well-being, older adults can incorporate some simple activities, including:

  • Exercise
  • Spending time in the sun
  • Enjoying nature
  • Listening to music

Learn more about the OPTIMUM study, including the eligibility criteria. The Late-Life Mood, Stress and Wellness Research Program offers additional information, including resources around depression in the elderly.