Study: Long drug regimens better than psychotherapy for seniors' depression

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Drugs work better than psychotherapy for seniors trying to stave off recurring bouts of depressions, according to a study hailed for its length and depth. The result could be more physicians prescribing antidepressants for longer duration, possibly even for life, according to reports.

"It's a good idea for you to continue to take the medication indefinitely, just as you take your blood pressure medication or diabetes medication," said psychiatrist Dr. Charles Reynolds at the University of Pittsburgh, who led the study. "It's a very new approach. People need to be offered antidepressant medication for at least two years beyond the end of the episode in order to stay well."

Prescribing medicine to not only treat depression but also as a pre-emptive strike against recurrences has become more popular recently. Results of the two-year study, which was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, were published in Thursday's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Depression is estimated to occur in as much as 25% of the nursing home population, according to experts.

The 116 study subjects were 70 or older. They were given either an anti-depression drug, the drug and psychotherapy once a month, or just psychotherapy. About one-third of those taking just the drug relapsed into depression, half the rate of the other two groups.

One university psychiatrist said he hoped the study results would change treatment habits, but others pointed out myriad challenges to altering the status quo, including costs, reluctance of the elderly to be treated and provider ignorance of proper procedures.