older woman on phone

A Personal Treatment for Depression

An innovative psychological treatment can help older people who are suffering from lower-severity depression and prevent more severe depression, say researchers at the University of York, in the UK.

Depression is common amongst older people, with one in seven meeting the criteria for full-blown depression. Older people at the greatest risk of depression are those who suffer from loneliness and long-term illnesses, both of which affect this age group disproportionately.

Being depressed can also make health problems worse and older people with depression are at an increased risk of dying.  The research trial focused on older people with lower-severity symptoms who are at the highest risk of becoming clinically depressed.

York-based researchers showed that a simple and low-cost intervention reduced the symptoms of depression in older people (aged 65 and over).

Those who received the intervention were also less likely to be more severely depressed after a year.  Older people were also less anxious and had improved quality of life compared to people who just received care from their primary care physician.

“We developed our Collaborative Care intervention after consulting with older people and considering evidence about effective treatments for depression.” said study manager Kate Bosanquet, from the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences.

“We used a simple psychological approach known as behavioral activation. Older people were encouraged to re-engage with social activity and to find alternative ways of being mentally or physically active. This is important since people with depression commonly withdraw from these types of activities, and this makes things worse.”

“Older people found Collaborative Care to be an acceptable way of accessing help,’ said Della Bailey, one of the therapists working on the study.

“We mostly worked with people over the telephone and found that participants appreciated this approach.  This also meant that older people did not have to travel to receive psychological care.”

The study team, which also included researchers from the National Health Service (NHS), other universities and the Hull York Medical School are now planning to train NHS therapists in Collaborative Care to ensure that older people all over the UK can benefit from this intervention.

The study was reported in JAMA.