Background: The aim of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a stepped-care program to prevent the onset of depression and anxiety disorders in elderly people living in residential homes.
Methods: A pragmatic randomized controlled trial was conducted to compare the intervention with usual care in 14 residential homes in the Netherlands. A total of 185 residents with a minimum score of 8 on the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, who did not meet the diagnostic criteria for a depressive or anxiety disorder, and were not suffering from severe cognitive impairment, were recruited between April 2007 and December 2008. They were randomized to a stepped-care program (N = 93) or to usual care (N = 92). The stepped-care participants sequentially underwent watchful waiting, a self-help intervention, life review, and a consultation with the general practitioner. The primary outcome measure was the incidence of a major depressive disorder (MDD) or anxiety disorder during a period of one year according to the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview.
Results: The intervention was not effective in reducing the incidence of the combined outcome of depression and anxiety (incidence rate ratio (IRR) = 0.50; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.23–1.12). However, the intervention was superior to usual care in reducing the risk of MDD incidence (IRR = 0.26; 95% CI = 0.12–0.80) contrary to anxiety incidence (IRR = 1.32; 95% CI = 0.48–3.62).
Conclusions: These results suggest that the stepped-care program is effective in reducing the incidence of depression, but is not effective in preventing the onset of anxiety disorders in elderly people living in residential homes.