The antidepressant literature for depression in late life tends to be interpreted as saying that certain antidepressant medications—e.g., nortriptyline, doxepin, fluoxetine—have fewer and milder side effects than others, whereas overall efficacy is equivalent (Plotkin et al., 1987; Rush, 1993; Salzman et al., 1995; Schneider, 1994). Further examination of this literature, however, suggests that both efficacy and side effect rates for any particular medication vary among trials, and often depend on the medications being compared, the use of placebe, the dose, and the design of the trial.
In this report we review selected clinical trials, and summarize and discuss a previously published meta-analysis. Treatment recommendations from the 1991 NIH Consensus Development Conference on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Depression in Late Life and from the Agency for Health Care Policy Research are discussed. Directions for fume research are suggested.
Both antidepressant medications and brief structured psychotherapies have efficacy in the acute treatment of elderly depressed outpatients with major unipolar, nondelusional depression. Effective treatment for depression involves consideration of the type and severity of illness, adequate prescribing, patient education, and regular patient monitoring for compliance, symptom change, side effects, and intercurrent medical disorders, which may complicate antidepressant therapy.