Risks and Benefits of Treating Depression in the Elderly With Antidepressants

Many factors conspire to undertreat their depression.
Antidepressant medication and counseling seem to work better together than either alone for depressed geriatric patients. Unfortunately depressed seniors rarely get the treatment they need.

Only half of older adults with mental health problems receive treatment from any provider (over half of those get it from their primary care physician). Only 3% of seniors with mental health problems get treatment from a mental health professional. But untreated depression increases an elderly person's risk of death, according to Burton V. Reifler, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Wake Forest University.

Why the elderly are undertreated
Explanations for why older people are underserved vary. According to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, they include the following.

  • Stigma and a denial of problems by the patient
  • Access barriers, especially for people with mobility issues
  • Lack of collaboration and coordination between mental health professionals and other service providers
  • A shortage of geriatric psychiatrists and psychologists
  • Financial barriers, as older patients on a fixed income may not be able to afford antidepressants

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Last Updated: April 24, 2008

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